Former President George W. Bush said Monday that his presidential center will be a venue for learning and action, and that it already exceeds his expectations.
The George W. Bush Presidential Center will feature a presidential library and policy institute when it opens in spring 2013. Bush said the institute, which will focus on education reform, global health, human freedom and economic growth, will help him to stay involved in the areas that interest him.
"The challenge is after you are president to make sure you are still constructive, that you add something to society," Bush told some 600 people gathered at a ceremony to mark the placement of center's last construction beam. "I thought long and hard about how I wanted to do that."
He described the center as "an exciting place. A place of learning, a place of scholarship, but most importantly, a place of action."
The nearly 225,000-sq.-foot center is located on about 25 acres on the campus of Southern Methodist University. When completed in spring 2013, it will have an exterior of red brick and limestone and landscaping that includes a restored prairie, a woodland and wildflower meadow.
Bush said the center, which he toured for the first time Sunday, "exceeds expectations."
Architect Robert A.M. Stern said that the center has been designed to complement the university's Georgian architecture but also has "its own character."
Laura Bush, who chairs the design committee for the center, told The Associated Press that she wanted the building to have a modern feel because her husband's presidency was the first of the 21st century.
The former first lady and members of the construction team also attended the "topping out" ceremony Monday.
Visitors to the museum will enter through Freedom Hall, a light-filled large open space that will tie different aspects of the center together. The museum's permanent exhibit includes a replica of the Oval Office as it appeared during the Bush administration and the White House Rose Garden, with a few tweaks for the Texas climate.
"It's very open and accessible and we hope people will come back again and again," Stern said.
Like the Bushes' ranch in Crawford, the presidential center has incorporated environmentally friendly design elements, including using as many as possible materials from within 500 miles of the site. Also, solar panels will supply hot water and there will be a system to capture and reuse rainwater.
Laura Bush said the museum's exhibit on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will include a giant bent beam from the World Trade Center.
"That is a very somber part of the museum display," she said.
The George W. Bush Foundation has already raised the $250 million needed for the cost of the building and an around $8 million endowment to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, said foundation president Mark Langdale.
The Bushes moved to Dallas after he left office in January 2009.