$300,000 donated for solar system project at Hanford Reach Interpretive Center

By Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldMarch 7, 2013 

The Columbia Center Rotary Charity is donating $300,000 for an amphitheater at the planned Hanford Reach Interpretive Center and a student-designed solar system project.

The outdoor amphitheater will have large, criss-crossing arches representing the sun.

Sculptures representing the other planetary bodies will be set up along the Columbia River, with Pluto miles away by the boat launch to the Hanford Reach National Monument near Othello.

"It's a red-letter day," said Lisa Toomey, the Reach center's chief executive officer, on Thursday. The rotary charity announced the donation that day and presented a check during an evening meeting of the Richland Public Facilities District Board, which is developing the long-awaited center.

Mike Rader, the charity board president, noted the Reach center's transformation in the last 14 months from a project that was "too big and too expensive" to one that's "affordable, practical (and) sustainable."

"We believe in investing in the future and present this gift to ensure that our children's children have opportunities to not only experience the world in new ways, but to be able to access those experiences right in their own backyard," Rader said.

Students in the STEAM-Link (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math) program at Three Rivers HomeLink in Richland are designing the planet markers. Several came to Thursday's meeting, along with their teacher, Trevor Macduff, who envisioned the solar system project.

"This is amazing," Macduff said of the donation. "To me, seeing the joy, excitement on the kids' faces -- it makes it real."

The interpretive center at the west end of Columbia Park will tell the story of the region's history and culture.

It's set to open next year. DGR Grant Construction in Richland is the builder and Pasco architect Terence Thornhill is handling design. Apollo Inc. in Kennewick is the contractor for site work, which is under way.

The bulk of the rotary charity's donation -- $250,000 -- will go for the amphitheater, with the rest for the solar system project.

Macduff said the idea is to work with local artists and others in the community to build the planet markers. Artist Joseph Rastovich is working on the sun arches, Macduff said.

Students said they're excited to see their designs come to life. Porter Withers, 13, of Kennewick, worked with another student on a design for Mars. Porter brought a prototype Thursday, complete with a small rotating planet, orbiting moons and nods to the Mars Rover and the shield of the ancient god.

Linnea Walter, 13, and Anne Maughan, 12, showed their design for Venus -- a sculpture of the goddess with flowing hair, holding the planet in her hands. "It feels crazy" to think of it being built, said Anne, from West Richland.

"It's like, we're going to be famous!"

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