About 50 people showed up to hear discussion on the future of the Reach museum, which is at “a defining moment” — in the words of its CEO — as its second anniversary approaches.
About half of those people spoke during the Wednesday meeting, sharing their thoughts on a path forward.
“For me, the overwhelming feeling was people love the Reach and they want to help us come up with a solution that helps us continue to be a meaningful institution,” said Lisa Toomey, CEO.
The museum isn’t about to close its doors. But its finances are tight, and officials recently made about $150,000 in cuts that included closing on Sundays and laying off five full- and part-time staff.
The Reach is running at a deficit, which isn’t unusual for public buildings and museums, especially start-ups, but it has meant difficult decisions.
The community has said that a “robust, inspiring, enriching and constantly evolving” education program that’s accessible to all should be the primary focus, Toomey wrote in a report for Wednesday’s meeting.
However, that’s expensive and the cost “exceeds our ability to fund (the program), even with current grants and donations,” she wrote.
A wide range of community leaders were invited to Wednesday’s meeting, from Richland city officials to representatives from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and area school districts.
There were enough people who made it clear that the Reach was important to them and their families.
Steve Simmons, Reach board president
Debbie McClary, Kennewick School District’s career and technical education director, was among those who spoke. She said she hopes the museum’s dedication to education will continue.
It’s coordinated education events, provided mentoring and more, she said.
“The programs have been extremely beneficial to our students and the community at large,” McClary told the Herald. “I hope the board recognizes the value.”
The Reach museum’s path to completion spanned more than a decade. It originally was envisioned as a bigger facility in a different location — Columbia Point south.
But problems with the site arose. Fundraising also slowed as the recession set in, and public confidence in the project dipped.
The museum project eventually was reinvigorated with a scaled-back vision and new leadership. It opened in July 2014.
Steve Simmons, Reach board president, said he left Wednesday’s meeting feeling optimistic — “because there were enough people who made it clear that the Reach was important to them and their families.”
He said it’s also clear that Reach officials need to do better at keeping the public informed about the museum’s finances and position.
“There are lessons to be learned there,” he said.
Toomey said that’s a goal moving forward.
“(People) want to be part of the process and understand what the real costs are of running a museum and delivering enriching education, enriching exhibits, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities, that sort of thing,” she said. “They really want to understand what it takes to operate a museum that’s a cultural benefit to the community.”
In the next couple months, she said, officials will explore the community suggestions and continue to drill down on the finances, refining scenarios and options for the future.
They’ll also invite more public comment about the museum’s future at the next board meeting, likely in July, and have a discussion with Richland city officials.
“We are at kind of a defining moment,” Toomey told the Herald. “We had one in 2012 when the board decided to start over. I think we’re at another one, where we have to balance the cost of what the community wants with what we can afford and what the community can afford.”