DALLAS – For the most part, former President George W. Bush has stayed out of the limelight since leaving the White House more than four years ago.
After moving home to Dallas, he spent time jogging, bicycling and relaxing.
He wrote a book, gave speeches and learned how to paint. He even recently became a grandfather.
This week, he steps back into the public spotlight as he and former first lady Laura Bush dedicate the $250 million George W. Bush Presidential Center – a three-story, 226,565-square-foot complex that includes a library, museum and institute – along the edges of the Southern Methodist University campus in Dallas.
On Wednesday, the center was handed over to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, with Bush and his wife, Laura, attending the ceremony.
Today, the center honoring the country’s 43rd president will be unveiled to the world during an invitation-only gathering of thousands of dignitaries, world leaders, family members and friends. The official dedication will be a rare gathering that includes President Barack Obama and the four living former presidents, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
“The significance of the dedication ceremony is greater than normal due to the very low profile Bush has kept since leaving office,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.
The center will open to the public on May 1.
This red brick and limestone presidential center has been in the works since SMU was chosen as the site in 2008. The center 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 center, designed by New York architect Robert A.M. Stern and landscaped by Michael Van Valkenburgh, is located on a 23-acre site at SMU – Laura Bush’s alma mater – and features permanent and temporary exhibits, a Decisions Point Theater, a life-size “Oval Office” that looks as though it was taken straight out of the White House during Bush’s tenure from 2001 to 2009 and a Texas Rose Garden, a version of the White House Rose Garden with plants that flourish in the Texas heat.
The building also includes the “Cafe 43” restaurant, a museum store, classrooms, research rooms, offices, seminar rooms and an auditorium. Most materials for the complex, ranging from the pecan paneling inside to the bluebonnets outside, came from within 500 miles of Dallas.
Inside, there are more than 40,000 items from the Bush presidency, ranging from the 9 mm Glock pistol that Saddam Hussein had when he was found in a spider hole in Iraq, to the bullhorn that Bush used when visiting ground zero after Sept. 11. Other items include more than 200 million emails, 80 terabytes of digital information, nearly 70 million pages of documents and nearly 4 million photos.