Hanford Reach site progresses toward interpretive center completion

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldDecember 14, 2013 

-- Editor's Note: This month the Herald is featuring a series of stories on the Holiday Wish Lists of Mid-Columbia nonprofits and how you can help.

The 19-acre site at the west end of Columbia Park has transformed in recent months from a swath of dirt and brush to a busy construction zone.

Crews are making more and more progress each day on an interpretive center that will tell the story of the Hanford Reach and the region.

Officials say it's exciting to finally see the building take shape. But the brick-and-mortar is just one part of the long-planned project.

The site "is going to be transformed again" as landscaping goes in and the exhibits are finished, said Lisa Toomey, chief executive officer of the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center. "That will be something really spectacular."

Reach officials hope to move into the facility in March, with exhibits starting to come in around that time, too. The center will officially open with a series of events and activities in July.

The project has been in the works for years, though it was beset by delays, from issues with a previous site to stalled fundraising. It gained momentum in the last couple of years, with a scaled-back vision and new leadership.

Toomey joined the Reach project in 2012.

The $3.35 million facility under construction now includes a 14,000-square-foot main level with two galleries, a multipurpose room, a film viewing room, a great hall looking out on the Columbia River, offices and a store. The center also has a 10,000-square-foot basement.

The facility was designed so that it can be expanded in the future.

DGR Grant Construction in Richland is the builder, and the architect is the Pasco-based Terence Thornhill. He included references to the area's heritage in the design, with -- for example -- cascading roof lines that are a nod to the Ice Age floods that shaped the region and overhangs that echo Native American longhouse architecture.

The interpretive center will include a permanent exhibit that tells the story of the land through time, from the ancient floods to the designation of the Hanford Reach National Monument.

An exhibit on the Manhattan Project also is planned, with the idea that it will eventually be part of a larger exhibit -- put together over time as funding comes together -- telling the Hanford site story.

Other indoor exhibits and features set for the center range from an aquarium sponsored by Bechtel to a science and technology exhibit featuring a digital planet sponsored by Battelle.

Several features also are planned outside, from metal silhouettes of native animals made by Kamiakin High School students to an amphitheater with room for hundreds.

Another outdoor stage, to be used primarily for education activities, will have arches representing the sun. Students from Three Rivers HomeLink in Richland designed the sun stage, as well as some other sculptures representing planetary bodies in the solar system. The idea is to place those pieces along the river, to scale.

Columbia Center Rotary Charity is providing money for the amphitheater and the sun stage. Donations are being accepted for the creation of the other solar system pieces.

Part of an irrigation pivot used in agriculture also will be placed outside the facility, provided by Valley Irrigation.

Toomey and John Koberg, project manager, gave a tour of the interpretive center site on recent morning, showing the galleries, the great hall, amphitheater and sun stage. They noted there still is much work to do before the interpretive center opens next year.

Still, at this point, Koberg said, "You're starting to see the fruits of your labor."

The building is taking shape -- a visual sign of progress on the long-awaited project. "This is the part that everyone I think was waiting for," Toomey said. "We're very proud of (it)."

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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