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A few years ago visitors who took a stroll on Centennial Mall found crumbling steps, cracked sidewalks and former fountain pools that had been filled in with dirt.

This year visitors encountered construction equipment.

That’s progress.

Renovation has begun on a vista that had become a city and state embarrassment.

But fundraising is not yet complete. So far a fundraising team that includes four former governors has raised $7.7 million. The goal is $9.6 million, which includes a $1.5 million endowment to keep the mall properly maintained.

The vision for the renovation continues to evolve.

The latest fillip, developed with the help of volunteer and consultant Roger Ludemann, will make the mall more appealing and interactive to anyone with an iPod or smartphone that can scan QR codes – in other words, many of the 35,000 children who make the traditional visit to the state Capitol in the fourth grade.

The codes will be placed on the plaques about people who are part of Nebraska’s history, about historical sites and about important industries.

The way it would work in practice is that a person strolling down Centennial Mall might see a plaque, for example, about Standing Bear, the Ponca Chief who won a case in federal court establishing that Natives were “persons within the meaning of law.”

With a quick scan of the QR code on an Italian porcelain tile embedded in the plaque, the student might soon see a photo of Standing Bear, and perhaps hear a narrator speak Standing Bear’s words: "That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is of the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man."

(Wi-Fi throughout the area will be upgraded to meet increased demand. In recognition of the speed of technological change, the plaques will be designed so the QR tiles can be removed without problem if they are superseded by the next wave of technology.)

The fundraising campaign has gained several important partners for its final push, according to fundraising leaders Susan Larson Rodenburg, Patty Pansing Brooks and Lynn Johnson, city Park and Recreation director.

They are the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, the Nebraska Corn Board and the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation.

Fundraising has genuinely been a statewide effort, with donations from Scottsbluff to Omaha and everywhere in between. At a Statehood Day celebration last week, Union Pacific officials presented a $500,000 check. Mall fundraisers hope to get a few more large checks, as well as many small ones, to wind up the campaign with a flourish so that the mall is ready for the Nebraska’s 150th anniversary in 2017.

The whole state will be invited. Now is your chance to pitch in.

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