After a tumultuous couple of years, supporters of the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center are hoping to "reintroduce" the project to the Tri-City community as they work toward construction of the regional museum.
But they also are hoping to reconnect people to the project's roots and remind the community what the project was supposed to be about -- a celebration of the Hanford Reach National Monument.
"The project is 10 years old. If I go back and read recent stories about it, they have nothing to do with the naming of the national monument and the reason it was named a monument and the incredible beauty," said Lisa Toomey, the new executive director leading the project. "It's an awe-inspiring part of the river. There's no discussion of the Reach itself."
The Richland Public Facilities District -- the public agency overseeing development of the museum -- is working on several education and outreach projects designed to drum up enthusiasm for the interpretive center, particularly among the students that likely will represent a large portion of the center's annual visitors.
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The initiative also is intended to help the community and students connect to the Hanford Reach National Monument and its history.
Among the outreach efforts are a free community lecture series, a week of spring break activities centered around science and the environment for local students, volunteer opportunities for high school students, a quilting project and a student photo competition to produce postcards promoting the museum.
"As I was coming into project and getting my arms around it, I had a sense there are a lot of changing dynamics, and we aren't going to have final dates on some of these things for a little bit longer," Toomey told the Herald.
"I felt compelled to start working immediately by developing something we could deliver -- something tangible," she said. "I felt education was something we could immediately deliver. Having worked in education this last six years, it became really evident to me we can always do more for students. We can always provide them with more opportunities to learn and introduce them to new ideas and new themes."
The interpretive center is intended to tell the story of the region's geology, flora, fauna and history, including Hanford's role in winning the Cold War. It is expected to be an attraction for area schools, and will include classrooms and hands-on exhibits.
The project has been in the works since 2002, but has encountered some setbacks along the way, most notably when project supporters learned they wouldn't be able to build at Columbia Point South, at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers, and in the past year when members of the Richland City Council publicly questioned whether the project is financially viable.
The facilities district also has experienced significant change with the departures of former CEO Kimberly Camp at the end of 2011 and former board President Joel Rogo just a few weeks ago.
Toomey, a longtime Tri-City businesswoman and education advocate, was hired in January to replace Camp and to revitalize the project -- particularly when it comes to community support.
Because of the delay in securing a new site -- which happened as the country struggled with a prolonged recession -- fundraising largely has been stalled at about $25 million of the $40 million estimated cost.
The public facilities district board recently started discussions about building the museum in two pieces so that they can get construction started sooner with less money to raise.
Toomey told the board that of the $25 million raised, about $13 million was spent from the time the project was conceived in 2002 until the end of 2011.
Of the remaining $12 million, about $3 million is committed toward site development and utility work, leaving about $9 million available for the building itself.
Toomey told the Regional Public Facilities District this week that by dividing the building into two sections, the board would need to raise only $3 million to $6 million to open a 25,000-square-foot version of the museum, instead of about $15 million for the full project.
The 61,000-square-foot building long envisioned by proponents was expected to cost $40.5 million.
The board will continue discussions about a phased version of the project -- and what that might cost -- at a meeting Monday.
Despite some of the obstacles, there also have been recent successes when the board got approval to build the interpretive center in the west end of Columbia Park on land Richland leases from the Army Corps of Engineers, and in October when there was a groundbreaking for the site preparation and utility work.
The Richland City Council on Tuesday is poised to approve a project schedule that would see a contract awarded for the utility construction in May.
Toomey said the project offers a chance to recognize two important regional stories: the Hanford site and its history, and the Columbia Basin project that brought irrigation to hundreds of thousands of acres in the Mid-Columbia.
"Those two things have always been mutually exclusive," she said. "Now we have an opportunity to tell both stories in one place, not to mention the Hanford Reach itself. ... There are so many areas people can explore and experience the beauty of the geology and the history and the diversity. To me there is phenomenal potential here that is represented by the Reach and the interpretive center tells those stories."
Upcoming child activities include:
w From 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3 p.m. April 3 and 4, "Spring into Earth Month" free two-day camp for students ages 8 to 13, or in grades 3-6. Students will learn how to make plantable seed paper from post-consumer products featuring seeds from native wildflowers. Register through Richland Parks & Recreation at 942-7529.
w From 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. April 2. Community service opportunity for high school students to make seed paper bookmark kits at the Reach office, 1766 Fowler St., Suite B, Richland. Call Stephanie Button at 943-4100 to register. Pizza and soda will be provided.
w From 12:30 to 2:15 p.m. and from 2:30 to 4:15 p.m. April 5 , free "Fun Sized Science at Go Wild For Reading" programs at the Pasco branch of the Mid-Columbia Libraries. Help celebrate Earth Month with crafts, games, stories and science. No advance registration required.
w REACH Quilt Project -- students in grades 6-12 can design and submit artwork to be made into blocks of a quilt to be displayed at the museum's grand opening in 2015. Artwork should relate to a theme of the Reach, including the Ice Age floods, Native American tribes, Lewis & Clark, White Bluffs settlers, transportation, the Grand Coulee Dam/Columbia Basin Irrigation project, Hanford, manufacturing, energy, flora and fauna, tourism and recreation, environmental preservation and science, math, engineering and technology education or careers.
Artwork must be in a 10-inch square and can be submitted to the Reach office at 1766 Fowler St., Suite B, Richland. Deadline is May 25. For information, call 943-4100.
w "Postcards from the Reach" photo project -- students of any age may submit photos to be used in a postcard series to be sold to raise money for the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center. Students may submit up to two images in a jpg or pdf file format that reflect any of the same themes as the quilt project. Photos also should include a description of no more than three sentences how the photo reflects the Reach and why the student submitted that photo.
Deadline is May 25. Photos can be emailed to email@example.com or brought to the Reach office at 1766 Fowler St., Suite B, Richland, on a flash drive. Six images will be chosen. Winners will receive $50 and their photos will be featured on the Reach website.
w 6:30 p.m. April 4, free talk by Pete Hedges of Hedges Family Estates on the science of fermentation and winemaking at Ice Harbor Brewery, 206 N. Benton St., Kennewick. For 21 and older. Hedges also will speak on fermentation and winemaking from 2:30 to 4 p.m. April 6 at the Reach office, at 1766 Fowler St., Suite B, Richland.