As a Minnesota citizen, I am keenly aware of the nonpartisan mandate operating within our state Legislature that during this bonding session we must prioritize our state’s financial needs and allocate public spending as wisely and efficiently as possible.
Living in a democratic society and serving our common community values mandates that we do so. Among these values are a respect for equal opportunity in education and an appreciation for the natural history of the state we live in. The Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota has been an asset in serving these values since the 19th century. However, space and accessibility have become obstacles to effectively serving the growing numbers of schools and groups that want to visit.
Now a $51.5 million bonding request provides an opportunity to move the Bell, expand it, combine it with a state-of- the-art planetarium and make it more accessible to our citizens.
As a University of Minnesota faculty member and extension educator for 37 years, I have no formal appointment with the Bell Museum. But as one of the state’s climate historians, I have always had a great appreciation for its purpose.
I have spoken at hundreds of venues around the state about climate science, our climate history, and its impact on our natural resources and the infrastructure that supports our quality of life. Of all of these venues, the Bell has been a favorite of mine because I have seen it inspire young students, provide adults of all ages with a greater appreciation for Minnesota’s biological diversity and abundant resources, and provoke a wider discussion about important scientific and technology issues that are keys to preserving those resources.
Moving the Bell to the university’s St. Paul campus and combining it with a new planetarium would exponentially expand accessibility to the public, with more parking and convenient transit service. In addition, in its new location, faculty members from the St. Paul campus colleges and academic units are likely to become more engaged in public programs and outreach offered by these new facilities. The new facility will be transformative for the university in its ability to engage K-12 students about science (particularly astronomy, biology and Earth science), about our state’s history (biomes, watersheds, forests, soils and wildlife), and even about art and design.
I certainly hope our legislative leadership sees it this way as well.
Mark Seeley is extension climatologist and professor at the University of Minnesota.