Presidential museum schedules reopening after $13M facelift


The museum relocated much of its infrastructure to make room for the DeVos Learning Center. Courtesy FTC&H

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum promises a completely new experience for visitors when it reopens later this year.

Since it closed in October, the museum has been undergoing a complete renovation to its second floor, as well as an expansion to accommodate the new DeVos Learning Center.

The total project cost is $13 million, with $8 million going toward the renovation work and $5 million for the expansion.

Museum leaders said construction is on schedule and they are planning to host a grand re-opening June 7.

Members of the media were invited to a sneak preview last Wednesday to see the progress that has been made on the building and hear about changes to the exhibits.

Changes to the second floor include knocking down walls to add useable square footage for exhibits, removal of a second elevator — also to free up space, installing new fixtures to provide better lighting, installation of 60 exhibit cases, new graphics and images, fresh paint and flooring, and more.

The second floor exhibit area spans 13,000 square feet.

Outdoors, the museum relocated much of its infrastructure to make room for the DeVos Learning Center.

The museum also is creating a new parking lot entrance, installing an upgraded stormwater management system, and updating its plaza and landscaping.

When it reopens, the second floor will include a new theater area, which will serve as the starting point for visitors and will continually run a four- to five-minute introductory video, providing an overview of Gerald R. Ford’s life and character. This will replace a longer introductory video that previously played every hour on the hour in the main floor theater.

The museum’s permanent exhibits will flow through six galleries, each covering a different period of Ford’s life: Foundations of Civic Life, 1913-1947; Serving the People, 1947-1973; Integrity at the Helm, 1974-1977; Citizenship by Example, 1977-2006; Funeral and Memorial Tributes; and Character Attributes/Legacy Experience.

There will be 400 items on display in the galleries at any given time. The museum said several of the items will be pieces that have not been seen in the museum before.

The galleries also will include eight interactive exhibits to help visitors delve deeper into Ford’s character and legacy. Previously, the museum did not have any interactive exhibits.

An example is an exhibit that will focus on Ford’s decision to pardon former President Richard Nixon. Letters from the time period will allow visitors to think through the decision-making process and engage them in the question of “what would you have done?” The exhibit also will consider how Ford’s decision has been perceived over time.

The goal of the renovation is to create a more engaging experience for visitors. The second floor will be much better lit than before, and bright colors will be used throughout the galleries, all of which should help create a more engaging environment.

There are a few aspects of the second floor that are only receiving minor changes. Those include the Oval Office, the chamber room, traveling exhibition space and the original upstairs theater.

The new DeVos Learning Center is a two-story, 8,000-square-foot addition that will be used for educational programming for students.

“The DeVos Learning Center’s goal is to inspire students to make value- and principle-based decisions in the tradition of President and Mrs. Ford,” said Joseph Calvaruso, executive director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation. “The learning center will present educational experiences to students that allow for increased awareness of civic engagement, both locally and globally.”

The learning center includes three classrooms, a small conference room, storage space and a catering prep space. The classrooms will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including smart boards and iPads.

Steelcase and Custer are furnishing the space.

Clare Shubert has been hired as director of the DeVos Learning Center. She joins the museum’s educator, Barbara McGregor.

Shubert said the furniture will be colorful and modular to create an engaging environment for students. She said the goal is to create a classroom unlike everyday classrooms so students will be excited to spend time at the center.

Shubert and McGregor are in the process of creating the curriculum, which will focus on “learning about character through history.”

On the main floor of the museum, the ticket counter and museum store also are being redone, creating a modern feel in line with the rest of the museum.

“We are excited to have the public see the redesigned museum and new exhibits,” said Elaine Didier, museum director. “The core exhibits will now tell the complete story of President and Mrs. Ford and, with the addition of the DeVos Learning Center, we have added a much needed space dedicated to student education.”

The museum hopes the renovation and addition will draw more visitors and increase the time visitors spend at the museum.

Several local firms are involved in the museum project including: Pioneer Construction; Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber; Gallagher & Associates; and Xibitz.

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