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Alumni, faculty struggle to halt relocation of science museum

Alumni and faculty are scrambling to stop plans to move Guyot Hall's Museum of Natural History, which the University closed Sept. 4 and began dismantling during the summer.

The museum, which has been located in Guyot since 1909, housed geosciences exhibits including a full-scale allosaurus.


But citing the need for additional office space for the Princeton Environmental Institute, University officials announced in July their plans to close the facility and move its exhibits to another location on campus.

"Basically what we're doing is providing better space for all of our environmental sciences," said Provost Jeremiah Ostriker, adding that the museum's exhibits would be moved to a "more modern" location in the near future.

But some alumni and professors say they are concerned the museum may never be reopened, and they fear the exhibits may be damaged during their disassembly and storage.

After hearing about plans for the museum's shutdown, Robin Martin '75, a former geology major, began spearheading an effort to save the facility.

She spent much of Reunions talking to officials and sent letters to 1,300 geosciences department alumni two weeks ago to urge them to write letters to the University.

Martin said she recommends updating the museum while keeping it in the same location.


In the meantime, the contents of the museum are slowly being disassembled and stored. When that process is finished, construction on the environmental institute's new offices will begin.

PEI, which was established in 1994 to coordinate campus environmental studies, currently has only four offices in the basement of Guyot — just enough space to house the administrative staff, said Janet Gruschow, the executive director of PEI.

"There is no space for faculty to meet with students," she said, adding that PEI will gain 50 new staff members during the next few years.

At first glimpse the now-closed museum appears ancient. Exhibits are coated with dust. The index cards are yellowing. And now exhibits wrapped in old newspapers hail the museum's fate. But a closer look reveals a hidden majesty intrinsically linked to the history of the University as well as to the history of the world.

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The museum, which first opened in Nassau Hall more than 125 years ago, offers some notable exhibits, such as a mounted allosaurus, an Irish elk skeleton, dinosaur eggs and a giant globe.

If the University were to completely dismantle the allosaurus remounting it could cost up to $1 million, according to a report compiled this August by Barbara Smith Grandstaff and David Parris, two consultants the University hired to evaluate the situation.

Ostriker and Associate Provost Allen Sinisgalli say the contents of the museum will likely be moved into another space in Guyot after that building's renovations are completed.

However, Ostriker and Sinisgalli said they did not know when the new museum would be opened or where exactly it would be located.

Geosciences professor Lincoln Hollister said those undetermined factors are his major concerns.

"The University did not want anyone to know about [the closing]," he said. "They did what they could to keep you guys from knowing about it."

Sinisgalli said the exhibits are out-of-date and not well-preserved. When the museum reopens, it will offer mostly new exhibits.

Geosciences department chair George Philander pointed to a worldwide trend toward an all-inclusive geosciences focus as another reason for the existing museum's closure.

The department's name was changed in 1991 from geology to geosciences to integrate fields such as oceanography, meteorology and environmental studies.

"I can imagine people being nostalgic, but it's out-of-date and unaesthetic," Philander said. "It doesn't reflect what the department actually does now or the current research."