For the most part, former President George W. Bush has stayed out of the limelight since leaving the White House more than four years ago.After moving home to Dallas, he spent time jogging, bicycling and relaxing.He wrote a book, gave speeches and learned how to paint. Recently he became a grandfather.This week, he steps back into the public spotlight as he and former first lady Laura Bush dedicate the $250 million George W. Bush Presidential Center -- a three-story, 226,565-square-foot complex that includes a library, museum and institute -- along the edges of Southern Methodist University in University Park.On Thursday, the center honoring the country's 43rd president will be unveiled to the world during an invitation-only gathering of thousands of dignitaries, world leaders, family and friends.The event also features a reunion of "the world's most exclusive club": President Barack Obama and the four living ex-presidents."The significance of the dedication ceremony is greater than normal due to the very low profile Bush has kept since leaving office," said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. "Had he maintained the active public life of his immediate predecessor, the ceremony would not hold as much significance."But he didn't -- and it does.Thousands of high-profile guests are invited to the 11/2-hour outdoor ceremony to formally dedicate the Bush presidential center.The main dedication will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m.An event to light Freedom Hall, a space topped with a 67-foot-tall, 50- by 50-foot "lantern" made from Texas Cordova cream limestone that will glow at night, will be held from 8:30 to 9 p.m."President and Mrs. Bush will be joined by family, friends, supporters and special guests as they present this national treasure to the American people," Mark Langdale, president of the George W. Bush Foundation, recently said.The center will open to the public May 1.Heavy securityThe invitation-only event will be a rare gathering that includes Obama and first lady Michelle Obama and former Presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush and their wives, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Rosalynn Carter and Laura Bush.Many other Bush family members -- including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his son, George P. Bush, a 2014 candidate for Texas land commissioner -- are expected as well.Many involved in the administration of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney -- such as former national security adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former White House strategist Karl Rove, former national security adviser Stephen Hadley and former Ambassador Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth -- are believed to be among those invited to the dedication.Officials decline to detail security plans for the gathering Thursday, even though plans have been in the works for months.Hundreds of law enforcers and many Secret Service agents are expected at the ceremony.During the 1997 George H.W. Bush presidential library dedication in College Station, Secret Service snipers were posted at strategic sites, as well as on the roof, and hundreds of officers from a half-dozen law enforcement agencies were assigned to protect the dignitaries and control the crowd.Political observers say they expect security for Thursday's dedication to be even greater, after last week's explosions at the Boston Marathon, which killed at least three and injured more than 100."After Boston, everybody is hyper vigilant," said Bruce Buchanan, a government professor at the University of Texas in Austin who specializes in presidential politics. "They'll see to it that nothing happens."$250 million centerThe red brick and limestone presidential center has been in the works since SMU was chosen as the site in 2008.For the first time, many guests on Thursday will see the center, which houses a library and a museum, presidential archives, a public policy institute, the Bush foundation and a 15-acre park, all honoring Bush's two terms in office.The center, designed by New York architect Robert A.M. Stern and landscaped by Michael Van Valkenburgh, is on 23 acres at SMU, Laura Bush's alma mater, and features permanent and temporary exhibits, a Decisions Point Theater to help patrons assess Bush's presidential decisions, a life-size "Oval Office" that looks as though it was taken straight out of the White House during Bush's 2001-09 presidency and a Texas Rose Garden, a version of the White House Rose Garden with plants that flourish in the Texas heat.The building also includes the Cafe 43 restaurant, a museum store, classrooms, research rooms, offices, seminar rooms and an auditorium. Most materials for the complex, from the pecan paneling inside to the bluebonnets outside, came from within 500 miles of Dallas.Inside the building are more than 40,000 items from the Bush presidency, ranging from the 9 mm Glock pistol that Saddam Hussein had when he was found in a "spider hole" in Iraq to the bullhorn that Bush used when visiting ground zero after 9-11. Other items include more than 200 million emails, 80 terabytes of digital information, nearly 70 million pages of documents and nearly 4 million photos.Texas fansThis presidential center in the future will be a great resource for scholars, historians, political observers and more, said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington."The dedication is important in that it gives an official imprimatur to the library, especially with former presidents in attendance," Saxe said. "President Bush is well-liked in Texas, but ... his reputation throughout the country is a mixed one."This month, 44 percent of Americans said they view Bush unfavorably, compared with 35 percent who view him favorably, according to a NBC/ Wall Street Journal survey."Bush is still very controversial," said Larry Sabato, political analyst and director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "We'll see whether and how that changes over time."Schieffer, who will attend Thursday's dedication, said he hopes the country someday will know the George W. Bush he knows."The George Bush that I knew never seemed to make it into the public eye," he said."That will change as time goes by, as the emotion and criticism of his presidency passes."People will come to understand that he was a president with a big heart who did the best he could to protect Americans, a president who deeply believed that every child should be educated, a president who thought that millions of Africans shouldn't die because they couldn't get the medicine that would save them, a president who believed that America had a responsibility to encourage and spread democracy and freedom wherever it could."That, I believe, will be his true legacy," he said. "And it will be a good one."Anna M. Tinsley,817-390-7610Twitter: @annatinsley
George W. Bush
Location : Southern Methodist University, 2943 SMU Blvd.
Dedication : The main dedication will be from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday. A separate event to light Freedom Hall, a space topped with a lantern-shaped roof that will glow at night, will be from 8:30 to 9 p.m. Coverage of the event will be broadcast on multiple television channels, but people worldwide may also watch it through a live webcast at www.bushcenter.org.
Exhibits : The museum features exhibits such as those on education reform, the global war on terror, the spread of human freedom, the financial crisis and efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. A piece of steel from the World Trade Center is among the items displayed in the museum.
Collection: Items at the center include more than 200 million emails, 80 terabytes of digital information, nearly 70 million pages of documents and nearly 4 million photos. Among the paper files are Executive Office records, files of White House staff members and documents from the daily functions of the White House, such as letters to the president from military families and condolence mail received from heads of state after 9-11. There are more than 40,000 items from the Bush presidency, including the 9 mm Glock pistol that Saddam Hussein had when he was found in Iraq and the bullhorn that Bush used when visiting ground zero after 9-11. There also are nearly 50,000 audio and videotapes.
Opening: The center officially opens to the public May 1. The hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. It will be closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Initial projections predict that about half a million people will visit during the first year.
Admission: $16 for adults, $13 for seniors, $14 for youths ages 13 to 17, $10 for youths ages 5 to 12, $13 for non-SMU college students and $10 for retired military. Children 4 and younger; SMU students, faculty and staff; and active service members are admitted free. Group admission is also available.
For information: On visiting, contact the visitor services coordinator at email@example.com. For museum questions, call 214-346-1557 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To write to former President George W. Bush or former first lady Laura Bush, send emails to email@example.com or send formal correspondence to: Office of George W. Bush, P.O. Box 259000, Dallas, TX 75225-9000.