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Groundbreaking Ceremonies held for $52 million North Dakota Heritage Center Expansion

Posted 1/31/11 (Mon)

BISMARCK – Groundbreaking ceremonies were held today for the North Dakota Heritage Center expansion project. The $52 million project will nearly double the size of the current facility with the addition of 97,000 square feet.

Located on the state capitol grounds, the North Dakota Heritage Center is the headquarters of the state’s history agency, the State Historical Society of North Dakota (SHSND). It is also the state’s history museum, and its largest museum.

Among those participating in today’s groundbreaking ceremonies were Governor John Hoeven, former Governors William Guy, Allen Olson and Ed Schafer, former First Lady Grace Link, SHSND Director Merl Paaverud, State Historical Board President Chester E. Nelson, Jr., SHSND Foundation Executive Director Virginia Nelsen, and SHSND Foundation President Jon McMillan. Greetings and congratulations were sent by former Governor George Sinner, who was unable to attend the event. Many other officials also attended the program and groundbreaking. Due to the inclement weather, the event was held in the Heritage Center’s Russell Reid Auditorium, with soil overturned by officials to symbolically represent an actual groundbreaking event.

“Today is a historic day in North Dakota, not only for the North Dakota Heritage Center, but for the future generations that will benefit from the preservation and chronicling of our state’s rich heritage,” said Governor Hoeven. “This groundbreaking marks the culmination of years of hard work and planning by many people, and the beginning of an exciting new chapter in telling the story of our great state.”

View photos from the Groundbreaking Ceremony here

The 2009 Legislative Assembly authorized $51.7 million for the expansion of the exhibits and collections spaces of the North Dakota Heritage Center. Of this, $39.7 million in state funds was appropriated. The remaining funds are being raised by the State Historical Society of North Dakota Foundation from other sources.

SHSND Director Merl Paaverud said the expansion of the Heritage Center, which will nearly double its size with the addition of 97,000 square feet, should be completed by 2014, the 125th anniversary of North Dakota.

“What better time than that to showcase an extraordinary state museum that reflects our rich heritage and history, not only for us, but also for our children and for generations to come,” Paaverud said. “It will be a wonderful gift to the people of our state. We deeply appreciate the strong support this project has received from our many supporters and the Legislature, together with Governor Hoeven, our legislators, Lt. Governor Dalrymple, and our former governors in helping to make this day a reality.”

Said SHSND Foundation Director Virginia Nelsen: “This exciting and ‘must see’ expanded North Dakota Heritage Center will draw on the timeless architecture of the existing building designed by the architectural firm AWBW of Bismarck more than 25 years ago and create a ‘Smithsonian of the Plains.’ We are so grateful for the strong support this project has received over the years. From Governor Guy and Governor Link, who both believed so strongly in the need for a heritage museum, to the subsequent governors who continued to invest in tourism infrastructure all across the state, using State Historical Society resources as part of this plan, we come to today where we have begun construction on a facility that will have regional, national, and international significance.”

The expansion idea began with a meeting of North Dakota’s then-six living governors at a North Dakota Heritage Center forum in November 2001 celebrating the building’s 20th anniversary. The governors talked about the vision and work that made the Heritage Center a reality, and looked toward the next 20 years of history and heritage tourism for the state. The governors – William Guy, Arthur Link, Allen Olson, George Sinner and Edward Schafer-- signed a resolution asking Governor John Hoeven to appoint a commission to study the possible expansion of facilities and operations of the SHSND. Governor Hoeven appointed that commission, chaired by Lt. Governor Jack Dalrymple, in August 2002, and it prepared a report to the 2003 Legislative Assembly recommending a series of investments in the SHSND to spur growth and expansion.

The North Dakota Heritage Center is full of temporary and permanent exhibits that preserve and tell the history and prehistory of what is now North Dakota. In a cooperative agreement with the North Dakota Geological Survey, the Heritage Center also houses the State Fossil Collection. Open since 1981 and accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM) since 1986, the North Dakota Heritage Center is one of only two museums accredited in the state by the AAM; the other is the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. The AAM is a national organization, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., that has served the museum profession since 1906.

What follows is a detailed chronology of the North Dakota Heritage Center’s beginning through today’s historic expansion groundbreaking event:

The Beginning
The North Dakota Heritage Center, which began as a 1976 U.S. Bicentennial project for the state, opened its doors in 1981. The original gallery, collection storage, labs, and offices were designed for a 20-year plan; the Heritage Center was designed to be expanded. Expansion planning began in 2002 with Governor Hoeven’s State Historical Society of North Dakota Commission, under the guidance of all five former living governors. Since 2001, $21 million has been invested across the state in heritage tourism infrastructure; the last remaining piece is the expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center. Phase I, the expansion of the state archives, began in 2005; the grand opening was held in 2007. This 25-year plan added 30,000 square feet of collections storage at a cost of $5.7 million, doubling archives collections space.

Phase II Expansion
The second phase of expansion will double the existing exhibit, visitor services, programming, collections storage, labs, and office space by adding 97,000 square feet. Half of the expansion, 48,000 square feet, will provide more public space and exhibit galleries, and half will be on the lower level for daily agency operations. The size of this expansion was determined by a 25-year need for collections growth. The 2005 and 2007 Legislative Assemblies allocated planning dollars, and the 2009 Assembly authorized $39.7 million towards this $51.7 million project. The remaining $12 million is being raised by the State Historical Society of North Dakota Foundation from other sources.
Sustainability is at the core of the construction and ongoing operations of the expanded Heritage Center. Using geothermal and fly ash technologies, energy efficient systems, recycling programs, the North Dakota Heritage Center is going green.

The State Historical Society of North Dakota has several different collection responsibilities. Along with the State Archives there are the archaeology and historic preservation collections, and artifact collections. Through an agreement with the Department of Mineral Resources, North Dakota Geological Survey, the Center also houses the Johnsrud Paleontology Laboratory.
Archaeology and Historic Preservation collections include millions of specimens representing human activity that were recovered across the state. There are also thousands of resource files critical to oil, coal, wind, road, and bridge contractors and developers across the state. The Heritage Center is also the federal archaeology repository for the state. Also considered collections, a statewide network of 55 state historic sites is administered from the Heritage Center. Ten of these sites have interpretive centers or museums.
Artifact collections are three-dimensional objects, including items such as natural history specimens, textiles, vehicles, agricultural equipment, art, toys, weapons and furniture. Objects range in age from a 10,000-year-old mastodon skeleton to disposable items used yesterday, and in scale from tiny glass beads to a locomotive. Paleontology collections represent the fossil history and the geology of North Dakota. Specimens in the paleontology lab include a gem and mineral collection, and the State Fossil Collection consisting of fossils ranging in scale from microscopic pollen to huge dinosaur skeletons. The Heritage Center is also the federal paleontology repository for the state.

Public Level
In addition to badly needed new exhibit gallery and collections space, the Phase II expansion of the North Dakota Heritage Center will also include:
The Northern Lights Atrium, a beacon that will welcome all visitors, will be the new eastern entrance.
The Hub of History will be a new media tourist information center. The Hub of History will direct visitors to all corners of the state to experience the people, landscape, and history where it happened. The opportunities will include all of the state’s cultural, heritage, ecological, agricultural, sporting, and Main Street tourism venues. The Hub of History will be a statewide network of partnerships offering the best of the state to those who live near and those visiting from afar.
The James River Café will provide the visitor with North Dakota-grown quality foods to complete a memorable museum visit.
The Great Plains Theater, a 60-seat theater, will offer an orientation film and all sorts of programming opportunities.
The North Dakota Corridor of History, a passageway through the building, will connect all visitor experiences, from exhibit galleries to the Red, Sheyenne and Souris River hallways, Museum Store and meeting rooms. The Corridor will feature large digital screens, exhibits and programming space.
The Missouri River Event Center, along with existing meeting rooms, will provide facilities needed for large meetings and conventions.

Exhibit Galleries
The Geologic Time Gallery will contain more than 500 million years of North Dakota history illustrating the earliest life forms up to the last glaciation, about 10,000 years ago. These exhibits, which will feature a Magic Globe theater, the dinosaurs and much more, will set the stage for the fossil fuel stories of North Dakota’s oil and coal industries; they will explain the landscape and soils that have shaped the state’s agricultural future.
The Early Peoples Gallery will cover more than 10,000 years of the earliest human history in what is now North Dakota. When the Giza pyramids in Egypt or pre-Columbian civilizations of South America flourished, so did American Indian civilizations in North Dakota. The gallery will highlight early occupation and exploration up to the establishment of Dakota Territory in 1861.
The Inspiration Gallery is the current Main Gallery, and will present the last 150 years of the state’s history. It will investigate opportunities, innovations, decisions, and outcomes through captivating stories about North Dakota’s resources, industries, events, and people.
The Governors Gallery will host temporary and traveling exhibits, creating regional and world-class blockbuster events. This gallery will provide an opportunity to bring the world to North Dakota and share the state with other museums across the country and world.
All the exhibit galleries will feature the collections, new media kiosks, learning labs and hands-on activities that offer all visitors -- school groups, families and tourists -- exciting and authentic experiences.
The design concepts have been detailed by the architectural firm of Hammel, Green and Abrahamson (HGA) Architects and Engineers of Minneapolis, and Lightowler Johnson Associates of Fargo.

The Timeline
Construction will take about two years, from December 2010 to December 2012. The exhibit galleries will open over the following two-year period from 2012 into 2014, culminating in North Dakota’s 125th anniversary of statehood on November 2, 2014.

For more information about the North Dakota Heritage Center expansion project, visit the State Historical Society of North Dakota’s website at or the State Historical Society of North Dakota Foundation’s website at