Crews Count Down to Wrap Up of AR’s Clinton Library

Mon August 23, 2004 - West Edition

LITTLE ROCK (AP) For a brief moment while it went from 100 to 99, the sign atop the Clinton Presidential Library read “00 days to open,” and city and library officials had a vision of a glorious future.

But for the man whose idea it was to put up the sign and tell millions of passing motorists how long it would be before the region’s tourism jewel was ready, the sight was a jolt to the system.

“My heart kind of skipped a beat,” said Tyler Denton, event director for Bill Clinton’s nonprofit foundation, clutching his chest. “Even with the nine [placard] up there, it kind of fluttered.”

Denton’s reaction was a mixture of pride and realization that the Nov. 18 opening is just around the bend, leaving little time for the final parts of the $165-million construction project.

“When you see it 99 days from now, it will be pretty remarkable,” said Dean Kumpuris, a Little Rock city director who helped lead the site selection process while Clinton was still president.

Jonathan Semans, program manager of the construction project, said the main museum and archives structure and the nearby restored train station that will serve as a graduate school in public service are approximately 85 percent to 90 percent complete.

That includes most of the to-scale replica of the Oval Office –– now obscured behind ultraviolet resistant sun screens that are nearly opaque in daylight, eventually to be rendered visible at night by special internal lighting.

It’s really just finishings now,” Semans said. “In your house, it would be tile, paint, carpeting and ceilings.”

But the completed construction work doesn’t include landscaping on the surrounding 30-acre park or the museum exhibits being designed by Ralph Appelbaum & Associates of New York. The cabinet displays that will tell the story of Clinton’s eight years as president, including one alcove dedicated solely to impeachment, are only approximately 5 percent installed, according to Clinton Foundation president Skip Rutherford.

Still, close to 300 construction workers are working to put the finishing touches on everything else, and Semans said the exhibits are expected to take several weeks longer than the buildings anyway.

Library Director David Alsobrook said that now that his National Archives administrative crew has just finished moving 80 million pages of White House documents and other items from a temporary storage site to the archives building, the last step of museum exhibits is simple.

“It’s just a question of putting the items and the text into the cabinets,” Alsobrook said.

The final phase of landscaping also has been cleared by the extension of President Clinton Avenue from its former terminus under an interstate bridge to the front door of the library three blocks to the east.

The city is hoping to have Clinton visit in September or October for the dedication of two smaller streets, one named for an embarrassed Kumpuris and the other for the late Mahlon Martin, Little Rock’s first black city manager. He later became then-Gov. Clinton’s finance director and head of the charitable Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

“He was a remarkable public servant who is still revered at City Hall,” said current City Manager Bruce Moore, who said being black himself makes him feel a special connection to Martin.

The milestone also carried sentimental significance for Denton, who immediately thought of Tom Jones, the former construction manager who died suddenly from heart trouble in March. Jones was the first person he called when he thought of the sign last November, just a few weeks before it was unveiled with a year to go.

“Tom was so smart that he knew back then that the glass, which just went in a week ago, would stick up high enough that we had to jack up the sign five feet,” Denton said. “He and the engineers took a silly idea from my head and made it a reality, and now you can go all over central Arkansas and they know how many days are left.”

AP PHOTO: Work progresses on the Clinton Presidential Library as a tow boat travels down the Arkansas River on Aug. 6 in Little Rock, AR. About 100 days remain until the library’s Nov. 18 scheduled opening.