Bush library still far in the distance, but vision coming into focus

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by By LORI STAHL / The Dallas Morning News lstahl@dallasnews.com

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:45 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 12:37 PM

Construction of the George W. Bush Presidential Library in University Park won't begin for about two years, but visiting dignitaries may start arriving next autumn for events the president and first lady are eager to launch, the head of the Bush foundation said this week.

DAVID WOO/DMN
Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Library Foundation, says Bush confidant Karl Rove won't lead the policy institute at the facility, scheduled to open in 2013.

Planning for the roughly $300 million presidential facility - which will include a museum, library and policy institute when it opens in summer 2013 - is well under way.

First lady Laura Bush heads a design committee that has been working since last summer on conceptual plans for the library and its placement on the Southern Methodist University campus. And certain key decisions have been made.

Although the Washington, D.C., rumor mill has buzzed recently that former White House senior adviser Karl Rove is working on a "legacy project," library officials say he will not head the policy institute. Some Methodists and a few SMU faculty members have voiced concerns that the planned policy institute could undermine the museum's independence if it's perceived as overtly partisan.

"It is not going to be Karl Rove," Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Library Foundation, said in a wide-ranging interview that provided the most detail yet about the plans.

Asked what role Mr. Rove has played to date, Mr. Langdale said, "We talk; he's a smart guy. I appreciate his advice."

Mr. Langdale, who joined the foundation in February, declined to discuss details about how the complex will be designed or situated on the tract of land, on the eastern edge of SMU at Central Expressway. Those are matters under consideration by the design committee, he said.

Organizers are taking pains to make sure the facility is seen as a credible and independent "internationally respected policy shop," not a partisan vehicle, he said.

The president and first lady have indicated they want to be involved in various aspects of the complex, whether it's design, fundraising or programming.

SMU officials said university facilities will be available to the Bush foundation before the library is built, just as they are to campus organizations.

"Obviously, the campus and our venues are part of what is offered to the foundation and to the library for their activities," said Brad Cheves, SMU's vice president for development and external affairs.

Mr. Langdale, a neighbor of the Bushes when they lived in Preston Hollow during the early 1990s, said, "This is going to be an important part of post-presidential life."

Of particular interest is a plan to organize the museum's exhibits along broad thematic lines, rather than to present Mr. Bush's life story chronologically from the Texas Governor's Mansion to the White House.

Museum officials have identified four "core governing ideals" they say Mr. Bush has used as guideposts in Austin and Washington. They are considering presenting key moments in the Bush presidency as case studies that relate to topics of freedom, opportunity, individual responsibility and compassion.

"That's really the theme of what we're going to talk about with the museum," Mr. Langdale said. "He can explain why he decided the way he did."

Mr. Bush has had record-low approval ratings during the end of his second term in office. In recent weeks, he and Mrs. Bush have given several interviews to major media outlets that seem to indicate they are thinking about his legacy.

"I came to Washington with a set of values and I'm leaving with the same set of values," Mr. Bush said in a recent interview.

The Bushes, who will return to Dallas next month, will find a large tract of cleared land at SMU as virtually the only outward sign of progress on the presidential complex.

Groundbreaking at SMU, Laura Bush's alma mater, is targeted for November 2010. Once the design committee headed by Mrs. Bush approves the conceptual plans, designers and architects will produce detailed renderings.

Library officials say they want to raise funds to pay for the complex before starting construction. Although the global recession may affect some donors, library officials say they believe they'll be able to stay on track.

This week, Barbara Brier joined the foundation as senior vice president for development. She previously has worked for the University of Texas system and said she envisions a national fundraising campaign for the Bush library.

Only a few people work at the foundation now, and Mr. Langdale said he doesn't expect to hire more than five or six new employees next year.

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