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Forum editorial: North Dakota history to be made this week

Tuesday will be a historic day in North Dakota, literally and figuratively. Groundbreaking for the Heritage Center expansion will take place on the southeast lawn of the existing building on the Capitol grounds in Bismarck. It's the start of cons...

Tuesday will be a historic day in North Dakota, literally and figuratively.

Groundbreaking for the Heritage Center expansion will take place on the southeast lawn of the existing building on the Capitol grounds in Bismarck. It's the start of construction on a project that has been in the works for at least 25 years.

The Heritage Center is recognized as one of the best history and heritage museums in the nation. It ranks as the most-visited attraction in North Dakota. Its collections tell the extraordinary story of North Dakota from prehistory to modern times.

But it's too small. It's been unable to showcase many of the artifacts that reflect the state's history. The expansion, which will be nothing short of spectacular, will bring more of the state's fascinating history and heritage into the light.

Plans to expand the center have been on the agenda for 25 years, but a focused effort to realize the dream did not take off until about 2001. That year, the state's six governors (Arthur Link has since died) gathered at the center for a forum at which they lent their considerable influence to the expansion drive. The evening was one of those never-to-be-repeated events that tapped the collective wisdom of the men who shared the vision of the center's expansion.

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Since then, the State Historical Society has put the expansion project at the top of its agenda. The past three legislative sessions funded design and construction. The society's foundation went to work to secure private funding, which was a requirement of the legislative appropriation. Fundraising has been very successful, with corporations, individuals and others stepping up.

Cost of the project is an authorized $51.7 million, of which $39.7 million is appropriated state funds. The rest was raised from private sources. The willingness of legislators to fund the project and the success of private fundraising underscore the depth of feeling North Dakotans have for their history, heritage and folklore.

The expansion will face east toward a major street access to the Capitol grounds. It will feature a beautiful glass atrium-style entrance to the entire complex. The addition is 97,000 square feet, effectively doubling the floor space of the center.

Three of the former governors who gathered in 2001 to help jump-start the expansion effort are expected to be in Bismarck on Tuesday for the 11 a.m. groundbreaking. They are Allen Olson, George Sinner and Ed Schafer. Bill Guy is unable to travel and will send a letter to the ceremony. Former first lady Grace Link will represent the late governor, who was the godfather, the prime mover for the original center and the expansion campaign. Gov. John Hoeven will preside.

Hard work by society staff and foundation, former governors, legislators and private benefactors over many years has paid off. History will be made when the first shovels of soil are turned. And if all goes as planned, North Dakotans will have another celebration at the new center's grand opening in 2014.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.

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