FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum is on the verge of realizing a five-year dream.
Its quest to raise $31 million in construction funds was reached when the Legislature approved $8 million for an expansion project. The money was added to the $23 million already raised.
Aldona Jonaitis, museum director, was in St. Louis, Mo., attending an American Association of Museum meeting when she got the call confirming the museum had reached its fund-raising goal.
''I am thrilled,'' she said Friday after returning to Fairbanks. ''I knew there was incredibly strong support in the community and in the Interior delegation but I didn't know if the entire Legislature would see this as a statewide institution, which it is.
''Now we've got this wonderful money and we will open in the summer of 2004,'' Jonaitis told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
The project will increase the museum's size from 39,000 to 81,000 square feet, adding space for exhibits, collections, research, storage and laboratories. Also in the plans are the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery, a learning center, an auditorium, book store and cafe, all to be housed in a modernistic structure. The new building will capture the essence of Alaska in architectural form, Jonaitis said.
''This means the treasures of the state will be properly taken care of,'' Jonaitis said. ''And learners from kindergarten to post-doctoral students will be able to do research.''
She also believes the bigger, better museum will become a major tourist attraction for Fairbanks.
Once completed, the structure will require an increase in people to run the museum, Jonaitis said. She hopes to add to the current staff of 28 full-time employees to reach a minimum of 35.
Among the big donations were $5 million from Elmer Rasmuson, $2 million from the Usibelli Coal Mine and family, $1 million from Grace Schaible, $1 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a $1 million endowment from Chuck and Marguerite West.
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