Our Voice: CREHST transitions into a new beginning and end

May 1, 2013 

It's not immediate, but the CRESHT museum will close.

And while we're sad to see it go, the museum's end is a sign of a long-awaited new beginning.

When the Hanford Reach National Monument was formed and talk of an interpretive center linked to the site began, CREHST -- the Columbia River Exhibition of History and Technology -- already had plans for a bigger building and a fundraising campaign to make that happen.

But it didn't make sense to have two entities with similar missions and competing capital campaigns, so CREHST and the Friends of the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center decided to work together and an alliance was formed with the Richland Public Facilities District using $7 million in sales tax bonds to build a regional facility.

The bond described the center as two-fold, the CREHST museum and science center and an interpretive center to tell the story of the monument. Construction was to begin in 2004.

We all know that that did not happen, and the plans for the Reach struggled for nearly a decade before finally scaling down its once grand scope and moving forward with a smaller facility, with a much smaller price tag. Work has begun on the facility and it is expected to open in June 2014.

While the plans for the Reach gained and lost momentum over the years, CREHST was left in a bit of limbo. Supporters wanted to move forward with plans for an expanded museum on George Washington Way. If you've seen the old cream and maroon bus from that road, you know the size of the small facility that is CREHST.

The $1 million that was pledged by Battelle for a new museum was transferred to the Reach at the company's wishes.

CREHST stood firm that no transition would take place until construction finally began on the Reach. That day -- one that many thought would never arrive -- came March 7. CREHST's director, Ellen Low, resigned and is moving back to England.

Things had also changed recently at the Department of Energy, which had long contracted with CREHST, to be the curator of the Hanford collection of historical items, and the two could not agree to a new contract.

That means the DOE is taking back items at the museum that are owned by the federal government, which is not an easy task as some items may have been donated by individuals but still be federal property.

A transition team with representatives from CREHST, the Reach and the Richland Public Facilities District began talks months ago.

With a scaled-down Reach Interpretive Center, there will be less room to share the story of Hanford that is now told at CREHST.

It is not known just how much of the collection remaining at CREHST after the DOE has recovered its items will be displayed at the time of the grand opening of the Reach next year.

The Reach team will look through the collection later this month and determine what will be the best fit.

Space is being held in the rotating gallery and the entry way is another option, and the intent is to have some items on display on opening day.

For its part, DOE says the "ultimate idea is to keep the collection together so it can be displayed and interpreted."

DOE will work on a long-term solution to make its collection available to the community.

The Reach hopes to be a part of the plan, working on ideas and funding to finish the basement of its new facility, giving it the ability to bid to be the home of the DOE collection down the road.

The primary and permanent exhibit, which will be showcased at the opening of the Reach, is being funded by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. That means it will tell that story of nature and all its wonder, focusing on the history of the region, beginning with the Ice Age floods.

Hanford likely would be a small part of that very long story, but not the focus.

We understand and applaud the Reach's revised plan to start small with a tight budget and expand if and when funding becomes available. Just getting the doors open will go far to restore community interest.

Telling the Hanford story from World War II through the Cold War is an important part of our history.

We hope eventually to be able to see the full story and artifacts from DOE and CREHST given their due at the Reach, but that will take time and money.

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