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Call to Overhaul One of National Mall's Oldest Buildings
The Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. AP Photo/Smithsonian Institution.

By: Brett Zongker, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON, DC (AP).- One of the oldest buildings on the National Mall, closed since 2004 because of structural problems, could become a high-tech education center for the Smithsonian Institution under a concept presented Monday.

Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough unveiled the draft plan for the 129-year-old Arts and Industries Building to the board governing the museum complex.

The red-brick Victorian-inspired building could one day house temporary exhibits and video dispatches from Smithsonian research centers around the world, said Clough, though he emphasized that plans have not been finalized.

"We'd be able to explain the larger Smithsonian to our guests," Clough said, noting that many visitors to the museums don't realize its curators and researchers work worldwide in such places as Latin America and Africa.

Under the concept, four theaters would be designed to represent the Smithsonian's focus on exploring the universe, biodiversity and sustainability, valuing world cultures and understanding American identity and diversity.

The initial concept doesn't rule out the possibility of housing a future Latino history museum at the site, Clough noted.

In 2008, then-Smithsonian board chairman Roger Sant said the building could be the only National Mall site left for a proposed National Museum of the American Latino.

The building was first used in 1881 for President James Garfield's inaugural ball.

Under the proposal, the Smithsonian would use $12.6 million in federal funds to begin design work on renovating the building. Millions more would be needed for an overhaul.

Initial estimates suggest it would take at least $75 million to renovate the building.

Its roof now leaks and it was the only Smithsonian building on the mall to sustain damage from a heavy winter snow.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Washington | National Mall | Wayne Clough |

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