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Everything You Need to Know About the Bush Center/Library/Theater/Museum/Thing

Journalists across the globe have been busy churning out copy about the looming Thursday dedication of the Bush Presidential Center at SMU. Some of the pieces wrestle with the Bush legacy, some describe the center itself. Others explore the practical effect that a massive ceremony featuring five presidents and innumerable other dignitaries will have on your commute.

We've mostly avoided the coverage in favor of more important endeavors, like debating alt-country acts and talking about pizza. We're finally wading through the mass of information and have assembled this road map to everything you need to know, and probably some things you don't, about the center's opening.

The Guest List: The dedication will be one of the almost unprecedented moments when all five living U.S. presidents -- Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Dubya, and Barack Obama -- will gather in the same place.

The presidents will be joined by 1,000 or so Bush-Cheney alumni, SMU officials and a random guy from Colorado. Plus a million or so Secret Service agents.

Tickets: You can buy tickets to get into the presidential library when it opens to the public on May 1, but unless you're a former president, a high-ranking official in the Bush administration, or gave a lot of money toward the presidential center's construction, you'll have to watch from the other side of Central with the protesters.

The Building: The sprawling, quarter-billion-dollar presidential center occupies 25 acres on the eastern edge of SMU, blending in with the red-brick Georgian architecture of the campus. It was designed by New York architect Robert A.M. Stern and took shape over about two years or. Or, in this time-lapse video, two minutes.

Mark Lamster, the Morning News' new architecture critic, gives it a lukewarm review, describing it as competent but uninspired though he does praise the "genial" 15-acre park that sits beside it.

Inside: At the heart of the center is the George W. Bush Library, which is administered by the National Archives and houses the records from Bush's time as president. These include some 70 million pages of documents, 1,200 cubic feet of photographs, videos, audio recordings and 80 terabytes of electronic records.

The complex also houses the Bush Institute, an independent think tank that churns out mostly conservative research and policy recommendations on free market economics, education reform, global health and a small handful of other issues.

But it's the museum portion of the center that has been getting the most attention. That's where you'll find full-scale models of the Oval Office and Situation Room, a container of the chads that helped Bush win the 2000 election and the bullhorn he used to address first responders at ground zero after 9/11.

Most intriguing is the Decision Points Theater, in which visitors are offered the chance to step into the president's shoes and weigh how to respond to famous Bush-era events -- or debacles, depending on who's doing the describing -- like Hurricane Katrina and the invasion of Iraq.

Why SMU?: From Bush's point of view, the location seems ideal. SMU's a quiet, respectable institution with a well-kept campus. It gathers a good deal of its money and support from Dallas' business elite, meaning it tends to be more conservative than a lot of universities. It's also Laura's alma mater and just down the road from their Preston Hollow home. It's also a Methodist institution, just like the Bushes.

For SMU, it's a matter of prestige. Having a presidential library, even one that's been opposed by some of its faculty members, was touted by SMU President Gerald Turner as a way to raise the school's national visibility and spur economic development.

Traffic: If at all possible, stay home from Wednesday to Sunday. Matter of fact, you might want just knock off right now to buy bottled water and other provisions. Otherwise, have a list of choice obscenities ready to hurl when you find the road you're traveling on turned into a parking lot.

SMU itself will basically be impassable, with a complicated schedule of road closures you can view here (the southbound Central Expressway service road from University Boulevard to Mockingbird will be closed on Thursday). Expect major congestion on SMU-area roads that aren't closed, including Central, Mockingbird and any other roads in the immediate vicinity.

But with five presidents rolling through town and security tight, police are shutting down various stretches of road in and around downtown and Oak Cliff. The Dallas Morning News put these on a map.

Security: Officials are keeping details of their operation quiet. Police Chief David Brown briefed the City Council's Public Safety Committee on preparations behind closed doors. In public, he said that DPD has been collaborating with the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies to ensure the event goes off without a hitch.

"The support role we play, obviously, with so many dignitaries coming to our city is one that is going to involve a lot of our resources, both personnel and equipment," Brown told council members. "We are acutely aware of the sensitive nature of this three-day event."

Needless to say, security will be tight, particularly in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.

Protests: Bush has been admirably quiet in the years since he left office, but whenever he says anything, or even just whistles exuberantly while clearing all manners of brush, his critics are there to pounce.

True to form, protesters are quite literally lining up to voice their dismay with the Iraq War, the War on Terror, waterboarding, torture and any other Bush-era decision they might take issue with. The center won't open for two more days, but anti-war activists have already begun positioning themselves across Central from SMU. This, of course, comes on the heels of a federal judge's decision that a city of Dallas ordinance that could could be used to prevent the demonstrations was "unconstitutionally vague."

There are only a handful now. Expect many more by Thursday.

Stephen Colbert: For reasons unknown, the Bushes opted not to invite the comedian to Thursday's dedication. Colbert considers this a snub, as he noted recently on his show.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson