Arts & Entertainment, Construction, and Travel & Tourism

Major construction starts soon at Ford Museum

June 20, 2014
| By Pete Daly |
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Steven Ford, son of former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford and first lady Betty Ford, said in Grand Rapids last week that an $8 million renovation of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum will begin soon, as will the addition of a new $5 million, 8,000-square-foot wing on the north side of the building to accommodate school groups visiting the museum.

Ford also announced that his term as chair of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation has ended, with that role being assumed by Red Cavaney, who served on the White House staffs of Presidents Gerald R. Ford, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

The new “student learning center” will include classroom space for school groups; the renovation of the museum proper will add high-tech interactive exhibits.

The foundation raised $15 million for the projects, which includes $2 million to fund the digitalization of Gerald Ford’s presidential papers at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor.

The new museum design plans have involved Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber in Grand Rapids, but no general contractor has been selected for the projects.

Ford said after he took over as foundation chair four years ago, he realized many school groups visit the museum “but we didn’t have a classroom for them, no place where we could sit them down” to discuss with museum staff and their teachers what they would see at the museum. The only group space for large numbers of students has been in the open lobby of the museum.

State-of-the-art technology and improvements will be incorporated throughout the facility, which the staff said will enhance the experience for visitors and engage them in a deeper conversation about the impact of President and Mrs. Ford on the nation during their extraordinary time in U.S. history.

“It has been an honor to serve the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation,” said Ford. “The foundation has the chance to partner with the museum and library to create something very special for our community and beyond. I’m sure Dad would be very proud of these efforts.”

The project was announced in the fall of 2012; now the foundation has completed the $15 million capital campaign and received approvals from museum and library officials to begin construction. The projects are planned to create global access to the museum’s exhibits and the library’s documents.

“Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation board members are excited about the bright future this student learning center will bring to the community and the enriched experience these interactive exhibits will provide,” said Cavaney. “Our hope is to teach our next generation of leaders the importance of leading with integrity just as President Ford demonstrated with his leadership.”

A groundbreaking date will be announced in the coming months.

Ford said the museum will be closed to the public for four to six months “to gut it and put in new technology.”

The curriculum at the new student learning center is being developed with assistance from Grand Valley State University.

Cavaney recently retired from ConocoPhillips, the world’s largest independent oil and natural gas producer, as senior vice president of government affairs and a member of its executive leadership team. Since retiring, he has served as the president of the board of trustees of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation and on the boards of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Resources for the Future.

Ford, 58, said now that his chairmanship of the foundation has ended, he plans to resume his career as an actor for television and films. He previously has worked as an actor for 25 years, and lives in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

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