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Woodbury residents play major role in Bell Museum's next steps

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Two Woodbury residents and 3M Co. employees have played major roles in the next big step for a world-class natural history museum in Minnesota.

Last weekend's groundbreaking ceremony was the culmination—or a new beginning?—for Bell Museum and Planetarium's $79 million plans to construct a new building, add a planetarium, expand outdoor environmental environment, and continue science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) programming, among other things.

While faculty and staff at the Bell Museum of Natural History runs the museum, its advisory board—including George Yoshida and Tom Hangge of Woodbury—plays a supportive role. Hangge joined the board three years ago, and Yoshida shortly thereafter.

"We do the big things, like raise money," Yoshida said.

At first, Yoshida, who works in 3M's fire protection department and is an active volunteer locally, didn't know what he could contribute to the advisory board. But he has been spurred by the sight of bus after bus of excited children coming to the museum to experience its bee research program in person.

"There was so much excitement," Yoshida said. "And you know this is why we do this, why we raise money."

Construction of the new museum will cost $64.2 million, funded by a $51.5 million bonding appropriation from the Minnesota Legislature and $6.7 million from the University of Minnesota.

Getting the state funds has been a decade in the making.

"It's tough in this day and age to build a new museum," Yoshida said. "People think we should spend money elsewhere."

The advisory board is responsible for a fundraising campaign for the new museum, which needs its final $15 million for program support, endowment and technology. Some of the funds are for operational costs, an endowment and enhancing the museum teaching space—the latter a shell that needs to be filled with labs and programming, Yoshida said.

The Twin Cities will no longer be the largest metro area in the U.S. without a planetarium.

Also, the bees will move from the museum's rooftop on campus to a sprawling new outdoor learning environment at the new museum.

"We have so much more room on the St. Paul campus," Yoshida said.

One of the programs, specifically, is close to Yoshida's heart. All three of his children—one East Ridge High School graduate, a senior and a freshman—have taken part in STEAM. His daughter, the senior, has learned that science-related fields are not exclusive to males, a point Yoshida finds particularly important. STEAM class attendance is anticipated to double with the new additions.

And the museum will reach out to underserved communities, with a substantial increase in attendance, Yoshida said.

As one of the fundraisers who hits the pavement asking for contributions, he is confident the board will meet its goal.

"It's just the beginning," Yoshida added. "We have two years to build the Bell we want to."

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