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Obamas Unveil Plans for Presidential Library and Museum

Located in Jackson Park on Chicago’s South Side, the former first couple hopes the campus will help revitalize the area

(Obama Foundation)
smithsonian.com

This week, former president Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama unveiled plans for the Obama Presidential Center, which will be constructed in Jackson Park in Chicago's South Side. According to a press release, the center will consist of three main buildings including a museum, a forum and the library surrounded by a campus that will help to revitalize the historic park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the designers of Central Park in New York. The hope is that the Center will draw hundreds of thousands of visitors to the area and help stimulate economic growth in surrounding South Side neighborhoods and will serve as a center for community events. “It’s not just a building. It's not just a park. Hopefully it's a hub where all of us can see a brighter future for the South Side,” Obama said during an event unveiling the plans.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the Library and Forum will both be single-story buildings including landscaped roofs that will provide visitors views of Lake Michigan. The Museum building will be 180-feet tall and will dominate the campus. Besides hosting Obama’s presidential museum, it will also include an exhibition space, public spaces, offices, and education and meeting rooms.

The Tribune reports that Obama’s library will not actually house paper copies of his documents. Instead, it will have digitized copies of all unclassified documents from his administration. The originals and paper copies will be held and maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration, which has not announced plans for where and how they will house the documents.

Cheryl Corley and Amita Kelly at NPR report that the project is scheduled to be completed in 2021, and the stone and glass buildings will be constructed to LEED v4 Platinum standards, the highest sustainability rating for a commercial or public building.

According to the Tribune the buildings will span roughly 200,000 to 225,000 square feet, about the size of the most recent presidential library to open, the George W. Bush Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. There’s no word on how much the new project will cost, but if Bush’s museum is any guide it will weigh in at $500 million and change.

CNN reports that the former president said that there was no question that his museum would be located on Chicago’s South Side, which holds a special place for him. "The closest friends that I have made, the start of my life in public service, the values that I learned here in Chicago and we’ve now passed on to our children, I owe it all to this community,” he said.

At the same event, the Obamas announced they were also donating $2 million to summer jobs programs on the South Side, saying they wanted to start helping the local economy now instead of waiting several years for the campus to be completed.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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