Reach center architecture to reflect history of Mid-Columbia

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 20, 2013 

The Hanford Reach Interpretive Center set to open in 2014 after years of delays won't tell the story of the Mid-Columbia's resources and history solely through its exhibits.

The building itself also will hold visual echoes of the Missoula Floods that swept through the region centuries ago, of Native American longhouses and Hanford's B Reactor.

"From an architectural standpoint, I like to work with clues and references and inspirations," said architect Terence Thornhill, based in Pasco. "I wanted the building to tell the story, so that that part of the experiential process started as you approached."

That means cascading roof lines symbolizing flood waters; deep, sloping overhangs that evoke longhouse architecture; and a south-facing entry that references the layered, stacked look of the historic B Reactor.

Thornhill is part of the design-build team picked last week to plan and construct the interpretive center at the west end of Columbia Park. DGR Grant Construction in Richland is the builder.

The contract isn't yet finalized. The Richland Public Facilities District board, which is guiding the Reach project, will consider approving it at a meeting Thursday.

The facility is to include two galleries, totaling 5,000 to 6,500 square feet, as well as a film viewing room, a multipurpose room, office space and a store. A great hall will look out on the Columbia River.

"This is a premier location in the Tri-Cities. There are only so many waterfront locations," said Richard Richter, DGR Grant Construction president. "When you walk into our great hall ... you get a panoramic view of the river. Some people call it the 'wow' factor."

The design themes will extend outside, with landscaping that incorporates earthen ripples and erratics, or non-native rocks -- another reference to the Missoula floods.

Construction is expected to start this summer and wrap up next year. The budget for design and construction is $3.35 million.

DGR Grant and Thornhill competed against several other teams for the project. The public facilities board chose them from a pool of three finalists.

At the meeting, Lisa Toomey -- the Reach center's chief executive officer, who came on board last year -- called the selection "a defining moment" in the long effort to bring the interpretive center to fruition.

The effort has been hampered by delays -- first when it was clear the preferred site wouldn't meet federal criteria and then when fundraising stalled as the site issue lingered and the recession hit.

The center once was envisioned as a larger facility. Plans now are scaled back, although the design leaves room for more galleries or other additions in the future. It also includes a nod to the original building design, in the roof overhangs that echo longhouse architecture.

The selection of the design-build team wasn't the only milestone reached last week. The Richland City Council also approved the contractor for site work, which will include building some roads, a parking lot, an amphitheater and underground utilities.

Thornhill said the center has the potential to become a symbol of the Tri-Cities.

"I'm excited. And I'm excited not just for us, personally and professionally, but I'm excited for the community as a whole" because the completing the center will mean fulfilling a promise to the community, he said.

Richter noted his team's local ties -- fitting for a true community project, he said.

"Local people have donated their money to this. Local people have put (forth) their volunteer efforts -- literally thousands of hours up to this point," he said.

Engineering subcontractors include JUB Engineers and H2E; construction subcontractors haven't yet been selected.

In an interview with the Herald, Richter and Thornhill talked about the thrill of working on the interpretive center, a project they know the public is watching with great interest.

Thornhill described it as a "once in a lifetime opportunity for this community" and said the team is committed to doing it right.

* Take a virtual tour of the design at www.tltarch.com.

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