The University of Minnesota Bell Museum of Natural History is opening its doors to the Minnesota Planetarium Society.
After a year of negotiations, the two programs agreed to share space. Both have recently struggled to find funding for new facilities.
The Planetarium Society had lacked exhibit space since 2002, when its home base, the old Minneapolis Central Library, was demolished. Since then its hallmark has been the ExploraDome — an inflatable, traveling planetarium that visits schools to teach children about astronomy. State money for a new planetarium was canceled last summer.
The Bell Museum remains at its 1930s Church Street building, despite efforts to relocate to the St. Paul campus. In 2008, funds for a new Bell Museum were approved by the Legislature, but vetoed by former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. This year the Bell Museum didn’t make the cut on the University’s 2012 bonding requests to the state.
Fundraising will start soon to modify a Bell Museum classroom to be large enough for the ExploraDome, which requires a 14-foot ceiling clearance and a 31-by-31 foot floor space, said Susan Weller, director of the Bell Museum.
She said the Bell Museum is excited to host the ExploraDome and to make it available to University students.
“It seems totally appropriate,” said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL, St. Paul, member of the House Capital Investment Committee. But she said she has her disappointments.
“I am very disappointed that the U has abandoned its goal to move the Bell to the corner of Larpenteur and Cleveland,” she said. The location is part of Hausman’s legislative district.
Weller said she doesn’t know whether housing the planetarium will help the museum’s case for bonding money for a new building.
“I don’t think it will hurt,” she said. “I think this is the next phase of the Bell Museum and its ability to serve the educational research and outreach mission of our University and our state.”
Through grants, gifts and fees the planetarium’s program has been self-sufficient, and will likely continue to be so, Weller said.
“The educational programs are merging, but the entities are not,” Weller said.