North Dakota Heritage Center will start opening in stages this fall

Visitors to the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck have been greeted with a “closed” sign since the fall, but expansion coordinator Claudia Berg promises that it will all be worth the wait.

“It’s going to be a beautiful building,” said Berg last week.

The museum, currently under renovation, starts opening in stages this fall.

“After we open the front doors, we’ll roll out each gallery individually,” said Berg.

Berg said the museum will open its new front door over Labor Day weekend, along with the newly remodeled hallway exhibits, the store, the cafe and the theaters. Also opening will be the first phase of the museum’s new exhibits, ‘Adaptation Gallery: Geologic Time.’ The official grand opening for the Adaptation Gallery will be Oct. 13.

By late November, the next of the new exhibits, the Innovation Gallery: Early Peoples, will be open. The third of the new exhibits, the Inspiration Gallery: Yesterday and Today, will be open by the fall of 2014.

Berg said the exhibits will trace North Dakota history from its geologic past of 500 million years ago up until the present day.

Also included in the renovation is the updating of existing exhibits and the addition of new space that will allow for new and more exhibits to be displayed.

“We’re literally doubling our size for exhibits and program space,” said Berg, who said the total museum will be 97,000 square feet, with 39,000 square feet for museum space.

Half of that space is on the public level, including the galleries and other amenities; the remaining half is on the lower level and includes collection storage, laboratories and office space.

“We’re thrilled,” said Berg, who said the museum staff will likely start moving into some of the office and laboratory space starting in June. It will take them some time to arrange the exhibits, which is why they won’t open until the beginning of September.

The exhibits will be updated for the 21st century and will include more modern features, such as interactive kiosks and learning labs and updated information about paleontology and archaeology. There have been many advances in both fields since the original exhibits were built, said Berg.

Outside of the entrance will be a new outdoor amphitheater where the museum can host films made by native North Dakotans and hold its own film festivals.

Existing theater space in the museum is being updated for better accessibility, acoustics and surround sound.

Berg said there is now a much larger gallery space that will enable the museum to bring in traveling exhibits and also produce larger exhibits itself.

In the past the museum didn’t have enough room to tell the story of North Dakota’s last seven decades; now it will.

Berg said the museum store and state archives as well as the museum office are all open during the remodeling project.