Heritage Center galleries look to mid-spring opening

2014-03-06T23:20:00Z Heritage Center galleries look to mid-spring openingBy NICK SMITH | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK, N.D. — A date for the opening of two of the three new North Dakota Heritage Center galleries hasn't yet been finalized but officials overseeing the expansion project are expecting it to take place in mid-spring.

State Historical Society of North Dakota officials met Thursday to inform some of the society's board members of the progress on the $51.7 million, 97,000-square-foot expansion project.

Claudia Berg, expansion coordinator for the historical society, said work on the first two galleries has reached its final stage. She put their opening at some time in "mid- to late spring" but an exact date hasn't been determined yet. Berg said officials are shooting for some time in May.

The opening date has been moved back previously. The original opening date was expected to be last July, but the historical society ran into problems with contractors and sub-contractors working on the project running into staffing and housing shortages.

Late last year, Berg originally hinted at a possible late February or early March opening.

"Like businesses everywhere, it's tough to find qualified workers," Berg said.

She said the contractor problems largely have been resolved. She said final completion of the project in time for the Nov. 2 grand opening to mark North Dakota's 125th anniversary remains on track.

The project has remained under budget. The state approved $39.7 million for the project, while $12 million was to come from private donations. As of December, private donations had surpassed $11.6 million.

"They’re very close to the $12 million. They're inching their way toward it," Berg said.

Chris Johnson, Museum Division director for the historical society, said the contractors' work is "at a point where they're almost complete."

He said there are a few final "checklist" items to be completed by the contractors in order for the museum to begin its phased opening. One major item is completing installation of exterior limestone work lining the building. Johnson said weather was a factor in completing some of the exterior work.

The first gallery has been installed and is called the Adaptation Gallery. It is centered on ancient North Dakota millions of years ago and will include dinosaur skeletons.

Set to open along with it is the second gallery, called the Innovation Gallery. It spans the era from the last ice age about 13,000 years ago through the year 1860.

Work on installing the third gallery, the Inspiration Gallery, will take place this summer.

Johnson said the Inspiration Gallery will be a post-1860 exhibit divided into several themes including agriculture, cultures, and industry and energy.

The museum has been closed since fall 2012. During construction, the state historical society and foundation offices, the state archives and museum store have remained open.

Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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