A group of geology enthusiasts are rallying the public after the governor vetoed a bill that would have reopened the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum, which has been shuttered since 2011.
Senate Bill 1200, sponsored by Senator Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), passed nearly unanimously in both the Senate and the House.
Long-time museum supporter Dick Zimmerman is convinced the governor would have jumped on board, too -- if he only understood how important the institution is to the community. So he, along with a group of former museum volunteers, curators, teachers, and parents, has launched a website memorializing the museum with photos of children peering into display cases filled with thousands of minerals, crystals, and fossils, digging through wheel barrels of rocks, and panning for gold.
"Since we can't get through to the governor directly, we're going to have to make the people of Arizona aware of this and get his attention that way," said Zimmerman, a retired aerospace engineer who lives in Tempe.
The mining museum, which began as a special exhibit at the State Fair in 1884, attracted between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors each year, former curator Jan Rasmussen told New Times. It hosted school field trips daily, and provided teaching kits, including 40 rocks and minerals, to thousands of Valley teachers. In addition to cases full of crystals and gold, the museum housed historical mining equipment so children could see how ore was processed 100 years ago.
"We need to teach our children how important mining and minerals are to our modern lives," said Rasmussen, who has a Ph.D in geology. "Without it, we would have no radios, cellphones, or computers -- to start. That's something the children learned at the mining and mineral museum."
The museum closed in 2011, a year after former Governor Jan Brewer presented plans to renovate it to include exhibits celebrating Arizona's centennial. The legislature charged the Arizona Historical Society with overseeing the construction, but work stalled after efforts to raise $9 to $15 million to fund the project failed. In the meantime, Zimmerman said, the museums assets have been scattered across the state.
Senate Bill 1200, the third attempt to restore the museum in as many years, would have transferred the responsibility for the institution to the Arizona Geological Survey and, beginning July 1, set aside about $428,000 for operating and maintenance costs.
Governor Doug Ducey did not respond to requests for comment, but, in his veto letter, he expressed concern that there was "not a plan or organized structure in place to ensure the successful transition of the mining and mineral museum."
"While I appreciate the desire to preserve and celebrate the unique characteristics of Arizona's past, it would be premature to sign the legislation at this time," he wrote.
Lee Allison, director of the Arizona Geological Survey, also had reservations.
"There's all of these little nagging details to try to make this happen," he said in an interview with Arizona Capitol Times in March. "We're a little worried about taking something on like this."
Zimmerman, however, contends that: "It's not that complicated. We aren't building something new."
During a community meeting about the restoration February 6, community members hammered out a 19-step strategy largely powered by volunteers, according to minutes provided to New Times.
"The plan was simple: First, we get the legislature to transfer the museum assets to the Arizona Geological Survey," he said. "Second, we get volunteers together to reassemble the exhibits, and, third, we get the place up and running."
Following the veto Senator Griffin, in an email to Zimmerman, committed to pushing the governor to commit to reopening the museum next year.
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"I'm not about to give up," Zimmerman said. "The kids need help getting their museum back."
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