Some priceless treasures are stashed under the east end of Cougar Stadium, and no one seems to know what to do with them.
One of the largest collections of Jurassic-period dinosaur bones is being stored under stadium bleachers because Brigham Young University has nowhere to display them.Ken Stadtman, assistant curator of BYU's Earth Science Museum, said the university's dinosaur bone collection is among the most important in the nation.
"Other scientists have said this is probably one of the top five collections in the United States, so what that amounts to is we're being compared to the Smithsonian (Institution)," he said.
BYU scientists unearthed most of the bones in Utah and Colorado during the past several years, and although the university does have a small museum to display those finds, it is not large enough to accommodate the whole collection. In fact, many of the bones are still encased in the plaster blocks they were put in when they were found at the digging sites.
Stadtman and his colleagues say the bones will probably remain in storage until building them a home becomes a higher priority for the university.
"Part of our battle is to gain enough interest that the administration feels they ought to move us up on the priority list," he said. "If we're able to build a building, it will almost certainly be with the help of an outside donor or donors."
It may seem odd that BYU hasn't rushed forth with a big check to make a home for the dinos, but university spokesman Paul Richards said the process is far from simple.
"It's not an easy thing. BYU doesn't have all the money in the world, and although we're able to do many things, we can't do everything," he said. "These are hard business decisions. I know it looks simple to the public but it's not simple, it's not easy."
The problem is that building a museum for the collection would cost millions of dollars and would continue to run in the millions for maintenance. Richards said BYU officials understand that the bones are very important, but they have so many projects going now, it is not feasible to make a commitment to build another museum.
"The university eventually wants to (build a home for the bones) but it's just a matter of practicality. We can only do so much at one time," he said.
BYU is now engulfed in a campaign to raise $12 million for a museum for its valuable art collection. The need for one became clear last year when officials discovered a large portion of the collection was missing. People had simply walked off with the art.
"That has pointed up a dire need to have a place to store the art and display it," Richards said. "There is a significant value assigned to those pieces of art. We don't need to move right away with the (building for the dinosaur bones) when we have a problem with the art."
Meantime, scientists working with the bones wonder what hidden treasures lie within the plaster. Once all of the material is taken carefully from the blocks, officials expect to find new clues about the period in which the prehistoric vertebrates lived.
"We need a better facility to work with and exhibit the bones, because we have some exceptional things to exhibit," Stadtman said.
Richards said money for a museum would have to come from donors, but BYU must handle its donors with care, because if they are asked too frequently for money, they may become disenchanted.
"The welcome mat can be worn very thin and ultimately you turn off the source," he said. "If we did everything people wanted us to do all at once, tuition would triple."