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BU hopeful of Bush's blessing to build new presidential library

Jan. 18, 2001

President-elect likely to choose Texas university


Staff writer

This new year may not only bring the nation a new president. It might also bring Baylor national attention and a few more buildings.

In September, President Robert B. Sloan Jr. announced that plans to construct a presidential library and museum dedicated to President-Elect George W. Bush were being heavily pursued by the university.

However, Dr. Thomas L. Charlton, vice provost for research, said planning for such a major undertaking started early.

Charlton said that 'quiet planning sessions' arose early last year among various departments when Bush began winning the primaries leading to his presidential nomination.

'It's something that needs to be planned in advance because it is such an enormous thing to raise money for and build,' he said.

Charlton said the proposed library and museum, which will be a cluster of buildings close to campus, includes four basic elements: a library and archive of documents and literature from the president's term at the White House; a museum featuring frequently rotated exhibits of the first family; a school of public service and leadership that would be available to Baylor professors and students; and a conference center for both national and local meetings.

Other possible additions may include a park and hotel, he said.

Charlton said the potential facility may become the largest fund-raising endeavor for Baylor to date. 'Right now, our proposal calls for about $80 million to $90 million and is also set to cover 90 to 100 acres near the campus,' he said.

Charlton said the university has hired archivists and consultants in Washington, D.C., who are helping with the preliminary drafts.

After the university receives a commitment from the president, Charlton said the budget will not be affected.

Charlton said the Board of Regents has also been briefed but does not plan to take any sort of action until Bush chooses the location of his library, which he anticipates either in 2005 or in 2009, if Bush serves a second term.

Until that time, Charlton said the university would not begin fund raising.

Baylor gave Bush an honorary doctorate in 1998 and named his wife, Laura, an honorary alumna.

If Bush were to choose to build his presidential library in Texas, it would be the only state with three of the 10 presidential libraries in the United States.

The presidential library system began in 1939, when then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt donated his personal documents and literature he used while president to the federal government.

If Bush chooses Baylor, the three library locations would form a research triangle between the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in Austin and the George Bush Library and Museum in College Station.

'Baylor and Waco are strategically located on the I-35 corridor, less than two hours from the LBJ library at the University of Texas and the George Bush Library at Texas A&M,' said Mike Parrish, archivists for the LBJ Library at UT.

'This close proximity would enhance opportunities for cooperation between the three libraries and the Schools of Public Service in Austin, College Station and Waco.'

Not only do presidential libraries house documents compiled during the president's term and sometimes even the president; Charlton said they also create an enormous amount of both local and national attention.

The LBJ library receives between 400,000 and 500,000 people each year while the Jimmy Carter library in Atlanta, Ga., the least visited of the presidential libraries, still gets around 250,000 to 300,000 people annually, according to Charlton.

'Presidential libraries are some of the largest and most attractive touring facilities in the United States,' he said. 'Close to half a million people drop off Interstate 35 just to see those facilities,'

Brian Blake, director of public relations for the George Bush Library and Museum, agreed that having a presidential library in town does have its perks.

He said that College Station, which houses Bush's library, has received a lot of attention from vacationers, scholars and even the former president, who sometimes stays there with his family.

'Presidential libraries focus the eyes of the media and of the nation on the city involved,' Blake said. 'So, wherever Bush decides to build the library, it will definitely be a plus for that community.'

Parrish said that the massive attention and volume the university receives each year is a huge bonus to the University of Texas and the city of Austin.

'The LBJ library is the No. 1 attraction in Central Texas,' he said. 'We are considered the crown jewel to the campus and an asset that everyone points to for pride.'

Parrish said students frequently take advantage of the various activities, exhibits and documents, and even job opportunities that are supplied by the library.

'The students at UT have benefited both directly and indirectly by the library's presence,' he said. '[It's] no doubt that Baylor would be any different.'

Although Charlton said the positive publicity would be nice, Baylor is not the only university interested.

Though there is worry that the new facility might link Baylor to the Republican Party, Charlton insists that the library and museum are non-partisan initiatives and stresses that with fund raising, anyone is a potential donor.

'Presidential libraries are not connected with political parties,' he said. 'Of, course there will be friends and followers of the president who will want to contribute as well as others who are affiliated with the Republican Party, but that is usually how it goes when fund raising for presidential libraries.'

Parrish, also a Baylor alumnus, said not only does he think Baylor is the ideal location for Bush's library, but also a prestigious university that could only complement the president-elect and his wife's vision.

'Baylor is a major university that can provide the formidable intellectual capital and outstanding academic programs that work so well in concert with a presidential library,' he said.

Laura Bush's alma mater, Southern Methodist University, has also expressed interest in housing the library of the soon-to-be president.

Representatives for SMU and the Bush campaign could not be reached for comment.