House Bill Giving Museum $15M Makes Progress

The U.S. House of Representatives Resources Committee unanimously passed a bill to provide $15 million to help build a new Utah Museum of Natural History Wednesday.

?We are delighted, actually more than delighted?thrilled,? said Sarah George, museum director. ?This money would go for the construction of this new museum facility.?

Erected in the 1930s, the existing museum building was originally designed to function as a library, holding books, not the archeological remains of Utah?s ancient past. Pillars designed to house book shelves help hold up the ground floor. The wiring and plumbing is outdated and inadequate. A decent-sized earthquake could destroy the building and everything in it; not a distant prospect, considering the second-most active earthquake fault line in the continental United States is only 400 yards away from the museum.

?[The builders] took all sorts of shortcuts,? George said in an earlier interview with The Daily Utah Chronicle. ?The facility itself just can?t take any more upgrading.?

George hesitates to guess when the new museum facility will open its doors, saying it?s ?several years out.?

Constructing the museum will cost about $40 million. The museum plans to generate the $25 million its not asking the government for through private donations. Almost $12 million of that is already in the museum?s coffers, George said.

The University of Utah has already donated a plot of land for the museum: 14 acres at the northeast end of Research Park?an estimated value of about $5 million?in the Emigration Canyon visitors district, which includes Red Butte Garden, Hogle Zoo and This is the Place State Monument, George said.

The new facility would double the museum?s existing exhibit space, provide better storage facilities, include modern air filtering and temperature control systems and accommodate more lab space, said Patti Carpenter, museum spokeswoman, in an earlier interview. The museum?s available parking spaces would vault from 12 to 200.

Utah Rep. Jim Matheson introduced the bill, and Utah?s two other congressmen, Chris Cannon and Jim Hansen, Resources Committee chairman, co-sponsored.

Sen. Bob Bennett has fought for similar legislation since 1999, contributing to a bill last year that provided $500,000 as a down payment for the new museum.

?We need to preserve the past, I see this as a good use of funding, but who knows what will happen because of events going on?? said Coralie Alder, U spokeswoman. ?I hope it?s successful.?

The bill is part of a larger appropriations bill and requires approval by the whole House, the Senate and the president.

?It looks promising, considering the unanimous vote in the committee,? said Arlyn Bradshaw, Matheson?s outreach coordinator in Salt Lake City.

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