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Expanded N.D. Heritage Center to open galleries Monday

BISMARCK – Several areas of the expanded and renovated North Dakota Heritage Center will open to the public for the first time Monday, three years after construction began on the $51.7 million project.

Visitors will have access to the Adaptation Gallery, featuring dinosaur fossils and other prehistoric pieces, and the Innovation Gallery, which highlights the state’s early peoples.

State Historical Society Director Merl Paaverud said officials don’t know how many people to expect when the revamped museum opens at 9:30 a.m., but the response from tour groups so far has been overwhelmingly positive. The museum saw about 100,000 to 125,000 visitors per year before the expansion started in 2011, he said.

“We’re ready for it. We’re just excited to get the doors open and get people in here. We think they’ll be pleased,” he said.

In addition to the galleries, the museum also will unveil the new Great Plains Theater, renovated Russell Reid Auditorium, select hallway exhibits and a new museum store and front desk area. Paaverud said a vendor is still being sought for the new café.

Paaverud said the center’s new glass-atrium entrance probably won’t open until mid-June at the earliest. Until then, the public must use the current northwest entrance.

A grand opening that also will showcase the final two galleries and additional indoor and outdoor spaces will take place Nov. 2 as part of North Dakota’s 125th anniversary of statehood.

The project has nearly doubled the size of the original Heritage Center that opened in 1981, and it remains on budget, Paaverud said. Lawmakers appropriated $39.7 million from state funds for the project, and $12 million is coming from private sources.

The project was originally expected to be finished by January 2013 but encountered setbacks related to worker shortages, availability of materials and other factors.

“We worked a long time to get here,” Paaverud said.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.