After 34 years of faithful service to BYU and its surrounding communities, the Monte L. Bean museum is finally taking a much-needed reprieve to update and enlarge its facility and include a greater percentage of its inventory in the showroom.
The Bean Museum closed its doors on July first to prepare for the renovation and construction that is set to begin sometime in August. Construction will last about a year, with an additional three to four months to re-populate the exhibits. The museum is set to re-open during the fall of 2013.
The museum has grown significantly since its opening in 1978.
“We have nine research collections with over 3.5 million specimens, and these are research quality collections that are insured for a value of about $46 million,” said Larry St. Clair, the Director of the Bean Museum. “We have been in desperate need of additional exhibit space.”
St. Clair said there is also a great need for designated research space and also consolidated spaces for the exhibit preparation staff and education staff to work in. All of these goals will be accomplished through the expansion of the museum.
The current museum stands at about 55,000 square feet, and new construction will add about 30,000 additional square feet, divided up to match the museum’s three floors. There will be many special features added on to the museum as well. The new entrance will be moved to the east side of the building itself and there will also be two classrooms in the new educational area which will open up to an outdoor garden area on the museum’s south side.
St. Clair said that the garden area will be a unique feature for the expanded museum.
“It gives us a chance to expand the reach of the museum into the outdoors too, which we have never really been able to do before,” St. Clair said.
Significant changes are also in store for the inside of the museum. A second center atrium will be available, as well as a 60-seat orientation theater for patrons. The live animals the museum has for shows and educational programs will be moved into a new state-of-the-art facility as well, to replace the makeshift one they currently live in.
With the expansion of the museum, it will be possible for the entire third floor to become restricted access, devoted to the many research collections, including the impressive Cryogenics lab.
“We have one of the largest frozen tissue collections in the world, and we’ll be able to have a dedicated facility for that,” St. Clair said.
The need for expansion, however, is not the only reason for the upcoming construction to the Monte L. Bean Museum.
“Beyond that, another extremely important reason is that a lot of the donor money that we received to expand of the museum was not only to expand it, but also to honor President Boyd K. Packer who has always had a love for the museum, and he’s quite the artist,” St. Clair said. “He has oftentimes used the museum’s specimens to make sure he got his carvings and paintings exactly right.”
The addition to the museum will include a special wing to honor President Packer, and to bring together the two worlds of religion and science.
“This museum is unique in that we do cutting-edge science, but we are also people of faith, so we can testify of the creator using the resources of the museum, and the President Packer space will give us an opportunity to not only honor him, but to honor and acknowledge the creator,” St. Clair said.
With the museum being closed, and a historical 100,000 visitors per year, over half of them being schoolchildren, the museum staff has worked hard to amp up their outreach programs and special offerings to continue to support the Utah science core education requirements in local schools and libraries in American Fork, Pleasant Grove, Mapleton, Springville and Orem. Their efforts have already been met with great success.
“Every weekday at 11 a. m. we visit a different library in the valley and do a story or teach the children about a certain animal,” said Patty Jones, the museum’s Administrative Assistant. “One day we had over 200 children there!”
Shanna Dungan, a student educator at the museum and sophomore from Detroit, Mich. said she enjoys participating in the outreach programs, including the seven or eight different live reptile shows the museum has to offer.
“I love teaching people things they didn’t know before and getting them to appreciate animals and the world around them,” Dungan said.
Along with these programs, the educational staff have also developed a Bio Box Program, which includes a unique curriculum and materials that local schools don’t have. The curriculum in these boxes varies from adaptation and ecosystems, to unique Utah plants and animals.
“This is another outreach program where we bring the resources of the museum to the classroom in order to support the teaching efforts of the faculty and in-service teachers,” St. Clair said.
The boxes can be checked out for two weeks at no cost, and they have historically been useful for students in middle, junior high and high school who aren’t able to visit the museum itself. They will continue to be useful for all students during the museum construction.
BYU students will still benefit from the programs as well, as FHE shows will continue to be available. The exhibit in the entrance to the Wilkinson Student Center near the Varsity Theater was just updated using museum inventory, and some free standing exhibits will also be shared with the surrounding community libraries.
Katie Knight, the museum’s Education Specialist said that technology will play a significant role in museum outreach. The museum website has links to video recordings of many of the exhibit tours and live animal shows. There will also be a live feed of the construction once it begins. Knight will be using social media as well, uploading a new picture to Facebook and Instagram every day to help people interact and stay involved.
The new museum will also use a new iPad and iPhone app called “Identify Me” that will include interactive activities that patrons can use, as well as short videos about the animals in particular exhibits as they visit the museum.
Museum staff have moved toward shortening exhibit labels for the new exhibits to contain less than 70 words, with language geared toward a 12-year-old. In doing this, they believe that adults will also read and share the material more. The goal for the 25 new exhibits being developed for the new museum, is to provide a narrative.
“We have really emphasized that every exhibit should tell a story; either a natural history story, or it should address some pertinent issue about biodiversity or species conservation,” St. Clair said.
The large inventory of specimens allows for creativity; one exhibit in particular will include five or six elk mounts and six or seven wolves to tell a story about the predator-prey dynamic.
Since this is the first time the museum has been closed for any period of time since its completion in 1978, this is a major change for the museum.
“We’ve had people peering in the windows and knocking on the doors and all kinds of things,” St. Clair said.
It is the hope that students and community members will continue to appreciate the museum’s resources through out the duration of the expansion project.