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Concept, concrete impact museum's future

Sun Advocate reporter

CEU museum director Reece Barrick measures and identifies fossils in the bone lab with graduate students Sara Decherd, Alan Coulson and William Straight. The students are studying the area's resources.

On the south wall of the second floor at the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum, a cardboard cutout of an unnamed brachiosaurus looms above the painted cement block.

The rendition could be a cartoon creation from a dinosaur-ridden creator's mind - something to peak the imagination, but not real.

However, the paint and paper dramatization does not merely exist in the mind's eye of a single individual.

The fossils of the animal's anatomy reside within the CEU collection, but it would take almost a three-story building to display an assembled skeleton properly.

The large building does not exist, neither do immediate plans to build the facility. But while the relic of a hundred million years ago is at the forefront of the need to expand the museum in Price, the issue is only a small part of what director Reece Barrick foresees the facility could become.

"I have a big vision for this place," commented Barrick. "But it's more than exhibits and collections in a building."

The director views the museum as a concept place, a location where ideas and people merge to learn and explore.

Brick and mortar have to be part of the formula. The museum has limited storage space at the location in downtown Price. And the bone storage facility in the basement at the computer business building on the CEU campus is 90 percent full.

Nevertheless, the prehistoric museum continues to collect additional fossils that are quickly filling the remaining space.

As for current displays, the museum has a mixture of geology, paleontology and archaeology spread throughout the facility. But little is as strong as Barrick would like it to be. Most professional museums display a small percentage of actual collections at one time. However, the local facility has a great deal of the museum's collection on display, partly because there is no other place to store the items.

Some of the most significant finds in the area are waiting for a place to be shown to the public.

In fact, no less than eight new dinosaurs are presently in various stages of collection and assembly.

"Sure, I want to see our exhibits expand and to see our present displays updated and modernized," stated Barrick. "That would bring people in and they would not stop by for more than an hour or two, but instead would stay a day or more."

"But that is only a small part of what this can be," continued the museum director. "This could be an educational center for paleontology. The naturally occurring resources in this area are unsurpassed and research space, with labs and offices, could be very valuable to the area as well. That way, visiting professors and graduate students could come here to do research for extended periods of time."

A small sample of what can happen occurred in recent years when various groups came and stayed for a week or more, spending money in the local economy.

A regular diet of similar activity could not only bolster the museum's standing, but add to the college, promoting CEU programs and possibly expanding the school's educational arena.

Growth and expansion at the college and museum would have a positive effect on the overall economy in Carbon County.

But Barrick views growth in a different way - expanding programs into the community and even across the state.

"The traveling exhibit we started to display in local schools last fall has been a huge success and continues to peak minds in the area," explained the prehistoric museum director.

"I would like to see us do more of that and grow it into programs for the junior high and high school levels," added Barrick.

The display first showed up at Petersen Elementary School in Sunnyside.

Since then, the CEU museum has received requests to show the display at locations throughout Utah.

In addition, a school in California has asked to showcase the traveling exhibit.

"Those kinds of programs take more staff and bigger facilities as well," said Barrick. "But those kinds of things create more interest in the area and can bring more people here."

The museum recently received a $25,000 grant from Carbon County's restaurant tax committee to study the feasiblity of the proposed expansion and come up with preliminary plans for the project.

Barrick has several definite ideas about what the prehistoric museum lacks beyond simply constructing a larger facility.

"There are a lot of things that could make this museum more complete," pointed out the CEU museum director. "For instance, we don't have a very strong exhibit on the geology of the area, how it was formed and the time periods involved."

"Another important aspect of this area was the Western Interior Seaway that ran through here millions of years ago. We have nothing on that," continued Barrick. "But exhibits are expensive and we need to find ways to put them together."

According to the prehistoric museum director, exhibits that are housed in a building usually cost twice as much to produce as the building they are housed in costs to construct.

Basically, the idea of a constructing and operating a new type of museum - one that can attract thousands more national and international visitors - comes down to securing an adequate financial package to fund the project.

"Actually, the money is there," commented Barrick. "You just have to ask for it."

Few higher educational institutions can find a single benefactor to cover all of the schools' financial needs.

Therefore, the money to expand the CEU museum will have to come from a variety of funding sources.

Traditional funding mechanisms include federal sources, private foundations, economic grants, corporations and donations from numerous individuals.

Museums are changing what the facilities are and how they operate. They don't live in a vacuum and they do require a community's support.

"And they are more than just exhibits, too," concluded Barrick.

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