LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Bulldozers started cutting into the land that has been set aside for the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, site of the presidential library.
The Arkansas riverside location became an official construction zone Wednesday when a sign was posted and some of the 350 laborers showed up to begin work. A fence defines part of the perimeter.
Skip Rutherford, president of the Clinton Foundation, said the complex should be completed by October or November of 2004.
"This is going to be an international headquarters," Rutherford said Wednesday while touring the site with reporters and city officials.
The Clinton library and presidential center will be the largest of the 12 presidential libraries, storing and displaying more than 100 million documents, 75,000 gifts and artifacts and more than 2 million photographs amassed during the Clinton presidency. The site will also serve as a city park with a children's playground two-thirds the size of a football field.
The center will also include a museum, the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and a policy center to focus on economic empowerment and racial and religious reconciliation.
"If it's done right, it will do for Arkansas and the University of Arkansas what the Kennedy school has done for Massachusetts and Harvard and what the LBJ school has done for Texas and the University of Texas, and that's to create a top-flight, prestigious national and international education program," Rutherford said.
Clinton is expected to be a semi-permanent fixture at the library, taking week- and monthlong jaunts from his New York office to teach courses on international policy initiatives.
"We all believe we'll be seeing a lot of him," Rutherford said. "We want him to speak to the students and be a part of the classes while he's here."
Twenty-four students are already signed up for the fall 2004 class, and more students will be accepted for the program.
"We're going to do this thing right and that's why it's costing what it is," Rutherford said.
Rutherford said construction costs would be about $155 million, including building fees and architectural and exhibit design plans.
The foundation also plans to raise an additional $45 million for its endowment and operating costs.
Design of the facility evolved until several months ago when the final plan was approved. Earlier versions included a glass-and-steel portion extending over part of the Arkansas River. The final design stops several hundred feet from the bank for various reasons, including river navigation and security concerns.
"We've made a lot of changes based on the Secret Service and we've made a lot of changes since September 11," Rutherford said. He added that it will be landscaped in such a way that it will be ready for Clinton should he choose to be buried there.
Union leaders are in a dispute over how many of the 350 construction workers should be organized labor. Union officials say 100 percent of the project's construction workers should be union members. Clinton Foundation officials say much but not all of the work will be done by union labor.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.