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The University of Michigan Museum of Natural History announced plans last Friday to close its Ruthven Museums Building location. The museum will officially close on Dec. 31, 2017 and will permanently move to the new Biological Sciences Building in 2018.
It was announced over two years ago that the museum would close once the new Biological Sciences Building was finished across the street, though it is not yet known when Ruthven itself will close for renovations.
According to a University press release, the museum will incorporate the biological theme of its new home into the exhibits with a display on cells, genes and molecules. Along with new exhibits, the famous mastodon couple and two prehistoric whales will be featured at the entrance of the BSB.
Amy Harris, the director of the Museum of Natural History, said the move will be a continuous process until the final opening event in the fall of 2019.
“We’ll be opening in three stages,” she said. “We’ll be closing on New Year's of this year and then, while we’re closed to the public, we’ll be moving all of our specimens and our exhibits and our people over to the new building and getting settled into our new work spaces. We have an exhibit firm that we’ve hired to help us develop, design, fabricate and install the new exhibits and they will be doing that installation in batches.”
Harris said she has high hopes for the museum after the move and said the act of moving buildings is not new to the Natural History Museum.
“(The Ruthven Building) is the third location of our museum since it was founded in 1837 with the Cabinet of Natural History,” she said. “Moving to the Biological Sciences Building, that’ll be our fourth move, so this is not unprecedented.”
Museum employee Mishaal Khan, a University alum who graduated in 2016, said the schematics for the new space show a renovated and larger area compared to the Ruthven Building.
“I am super, super excited about the new changes,” Khan said. “When you look at the (museum) sketches, there’s going to be a lot more space and a lot more new exhibits … (The Ruthven Building) is like 90 years old and there’s no AC.”
In December, the Regents approved a $150 million renovation project for the Ruthven Building, which will add 100,000 square feet for classrooms and auditoriums and will renovate spaces for dry labs and the University’s central administrative offices, currently housed in the Fleming Building. The Fleming Building will eventually be demolished.
LSA senior Kathryn Zoller previously worked on a project under German professor Kerstin Barndt researching the history and the impact of museums at the University. She said the renovations to the Ruthven Building preserve the building’s legacy and are a much better option than destroying it.
“I’m very happy to hear that they’re not going to tear down the Ruthven Building, which was a big concern for me with the move,” she said. “I really like the historic Ruthven Building.”
Khan is one of the employees working on the museum’s newest initiative, Museum Memories, which catalogs public submissions of photos and stories about experiences at the Ruthven Building. She said the archive celebrates the museum’s history and the University’s bicentennial.
“So far, what’s been archived and uploading to the site are some really cool memories,” she said. “People have come to the museum for 90 years … People have really sweet memories of their kids there, too.”
Zoller said by accepting and cataloging the public’s experiences at the Ruthven, the history of the museum can be studied.
“I think it’s very important to preserve the memory of the Ruthven Building,” she said. “I think it’s interesting to see how the museum has evolved … and I think it’s important to collect memories of the Ruthven Museum so we can see how the museum changes and how it affects the public.”
Harris said the museum’s new home will bring the scientific nature of natural history to the forefront.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to put science on display and to emphasize the process of science and how University of Michigan scientists are making new discoveries and how they do that,” she said. “We really want to engage our visitors and getting their hands on activities that relate to the sciences in the building and we want to tell stories with the artifacts.”
Correction appended: an earlier version of this article mispelled Kerstin Barndt's name.