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Reagan Library Bracing for Crowds Monday - 2004-06-12

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California, is bracing for crowds when the facility reopens Monday. Former President Reagan was buried behind the library in a sunset service Friday. Visitors can pay their respects to the former president while they learn of his legacy.

This modern facility is just an hour by car from Los Angeles, but with its open vistas overlooking hectares of rolling hills, it could be a world away from the busy city.

The library opened in 1991, and it contains mementos from Mr. Reagan's childhood, his early career in radio, his time in Hollywood, and his tenure as California governor. It focuses, however, on his eight years in Washington as President.

The library's hours will be extended to accommodate the visitors expected in coming days, says library director Duke Blackwood.

"There's going to be a period of time where people want to come up and pay their respects. So we will see increased crowds just to come look at the memorial site," he said. "And by the sheer numbers of people coming up here, you will find that will change the dynamic. But with addition of what we've done on the Western edge of the property, people will now have an outdoor experience, particularly since it's right next to the memorial site."

Expansion plans are under way for two exhibition areas west of the main building, according to Mr. Blackwood. One will feature a reconstructed presidential aircraft. The other, a presidential learning center, will focus on education.

"And that will open sometime in mid-July to late July," he said. "In addition, in about a year from now, maybe 14 months, we're opening the Air Force One pavilion. And that' a 90,000 square-foot (8400 square-meter) facility that will house the Boeing 707 that President Reagan used all eight years as his Air Force One."

For scholars, there is an archive for academic study. It documents the more controversial aspects of the Reagan years, including the President's battles with congressional Democrats over Central America policy and tax cuts. There are also exhibits that showcase his foreign policy triumphs, including a section of the Berlin Wall that he once urged former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down.

But the highlight of the library will now be on the hillside behind the facility, overlooking the rolling hills of Simi Valley. There, visitors will pay their respects to a man Mr. Blackwood says inspired and touched the lives of millions of people.