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Originally published Saturday, April 6, 2013 at 6:02 AM

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George W. Bush library getting finishing touches

Workers at Southern Methodist University are busy arranging exhibits, beginning the last phase of landscaping and addressing other final details before the George W. Bush Presidential Center is unveiled to an invitation-only audience April 25 and to the general public May 1.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The construction fence is down; the heavy equipment is gone.

After 2½ years of construction — and several years of planning — work on the George W. Bush Presidential Center on the edge of Southern Methodist University is down to the finishing touches.

Workers are busy arranging exhibits, beginning the last phase of landscaping and addressing other final details before the center, a tribute to the 43rd president, is unveiled to an invitation-only audience April 25 and to the general public May 1.

“What was a dream four years ago is today a reality,” Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, has said.

The reality is a 226,560-square-foot center that houses a library and a museum, presidential archives, a public-policy institute, the Bush foundation and a 15-acre park, all honoring Bush’s two terms in office.

The red brick-and-limestone building features signature architecture such as Freedom Hall, whose 67-foot tower has a lantern that glows at night.

Few details are being released about the ceremony to dedicate the center, which comes more than four years after Bush returned to Dallas.

Presidential library openings generally include days of festivities, drawing dignitaries and officials from around the world — as well as all living presidents and first ladies — not to mention global media coverage.

Officials haven’t revealed the center’s cost, although reports show the foundation raised around $300 million in private donations for the center and that fundraising continues for public-policy programs at the institute.

Presidential libraries are administered by the National Archives and Records Administration.

Initial projections are that about half a million people will visit during the first year.

The 24-acre site at the alma mater of Laura Bush was designed by New York architect Robert A.M. Stern and landscaped by Michael Van Valkenburgh.

Inside, it will feature a Decisions Point Theater and a life-size “Oval Office” that will look as if it were taken straight out of the White House during Bush’s tenure from 2001 to 2009.

Outside, visitors may take a break in the Texas Rose Garden, a version of the White House Rose Garden with plants that flourish in the Texas heat.

The three-story complex will include Freedom Hall, which features a 360-degree high-definition video wall, and Freedom Plaza — a courtyard and fountain.

Other attractions will include a 14,000-square-foot permanent exhibit, a restaurant, classrooms, research rooms, offices, seminar rooms, an auditorium and a presidential suite.

There will be storage rooms for archives as well as archival processing and exhibit preparation rooms, not to mention the 15-acre park around the complex, which is about five miles from downtown.

A key mission of the center will be the privately funded Bush Policy Institute, which will be “committed to serious, independent research aimed at generating practical solutions to important public policy problems.”

The library will house and preserve items from Bush’s time in the White House.

The items include more than 200 million emails, 80 terabytes of digital information, nearly 70 million pages of documents and nearly 4 million photos.

Museum exhibits will focus on key decisions during the Bush presidency, using interactive and digital displays to give visitors an idea of the issues facing the president and his reasoning.

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