Colleges of science, fine arts look to move into UNMH building

By By Katie Valentine

By Katie Valentine

The new Utah Museum of Natural History Building is beginning to take shape, but deciding who moves into its former home is still in the early stages.

The new building for UMNH in Red Butte Gardens will be finished by early 2011, when the staff move out of its current home in the George Thomas Building on Presidents Circle. The George Thomas Building, which was first a library, will make room for potentially either the College of Science, which wants to make labs, or the College of Fine Arts, which wants more and better facilities for its theater department.

The College of Science completed a feasibility study of the building to determine if it could be renovated into a science building, said Bruce Gillars, director of space planning and management.

The feasibility study helped the college determine what it would have to change in order to move into the museum’s old pad.

If the College of Science acquired the building, it would take tens of millions of dollars to renovate it, said Brian Saam, associate dean for advancement for the college. The largest expense would come from making the building earthquake-proof, he said.

The college has two potential uses for the building. The first would be to make it a center for cell and genome science. The center currently is in the Skaggs Biology Building but has to share its space with professors from across the college.

The college is also interested in using the George Thomas Building for labs for introductory science courses.

Since there are still two years the building will be available, the U administration hasn’t decided who will get the new building, said U spokesman Remi Barron.

There is no definite decision from the College of Science either.

“We’re at a very preliminary stage,” Saam said.

Museum employees heard secondhand that other colleges might get the building, said UMNH spokeswoman Patti Carpenter.

Gillars confirmed that the College of Fine Arts is interested in renovating the building for its theater department. But the College of Fine Arts administration declined to comment about the possibility of obtaining the George Thomas Building.

One thing will stay the same about the building no matter who gets it. Since it is one of the U’s historical buildings, it will keep the George Thomas name.

The George Thomas Building, named after the U president from 1922 to 1944, has only been home to UMNH since 1968.

Thomas wanted a modern library for the campus, and during his administration, the U received $500,000 for a new library from the Federal Public Works Administration, according to the Utah History Resource Center. The building was built in two years and dedicated in 1935.

The Board of Regents named the building in honor of Thomas. The Marriott Library was completed in 1968, when it was renovated to house the museum.

By the time the museum leaves and a college moves in, the building will have served three purposes in 77 years.

In 2008, crews broke ground for the new UMNH building, named the Rio Tinto Center, after one of the construction project’s largest contributors8212;the copper mining company. The new museum will open in 2012.

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Editor’s note — Bruce Gillars, director of space planning and management, confirmed the College of Fine Art’s interest in the George Thomas Building, not Brian Saam, associate dean for advancement for the College of Science.