A group of Tri-Citians bringing a temporary science exhibit for children to the region this summer say their efforts are the first step in establishing a science-centered children’s museum in the Tri-Cities.
Hands In for Hands On Tri-Cities, or HiHo Tri-Cities, recently reached an agreement with Columbia Basin College to host the exhibit, A View From Space, from the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry at the college’s planetarium. The event will help show the demand for and support of similar offerings, including a full-blown children’s museum with a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, focus.
“We don’t want to move too fast too soon and not be able to offer quality,” said Lara Hastings, board president of HiHo Tri-Cities and daughter-in-law of retired U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco.
Past efforts to establish a kids’ museum in the Tri-Cities have failed and the Three Rivers Children’s Museum, which served more as a play space for younger children, shut its doors more than four years ago. Still, organizers and supporters of the new effort said they think there is a need for a dedicated facility where youth can explore scientific concepts in fun and entertaining ways.
Hastings said she began pursuing the concept of a children’s museum for the Tri-Cities about a year ago. She frequently saw such facilities in other large cities, such as the Hands On Children’s Museum in Olympia, and regularly talked to her husband about her disappointment there wasn’t something like that available for their sons in the Tri-Cities.
“He said I can either complain about it or do something about it,” she said.
The organization officially took shape in the spring, registering as a nonprofit and partnering with the Three Rivers Community Foundation for support. Hastings also recruited board members and consulted with others connected with past efforts to establish a children’s museum in the region.
STEM education has taken center stage in the Tri-Cities in recent years. School districts have addressed the need for students skilled in STEM through Delta High School, jointly operated by the three Tri-City districts and Pasco now has four STEM-centered elementary schools. Columbia Basin College and Washington State University Tri-Cities have also promoted STEM paths for their students by augmenting programs and providing other resources.
We don’t want to move too fast too soon and not be able to offer quality.
Lara Hastings, board president of HiHo Tri-Cities
There are a few Tri-City facilities offering STEM-related activities, namely CBC’s planetarium and The Reach interpretive center, located at the west end of Columbia Park in Kennewick. But Hastings said they don’t provide the same opportunities that a museum dedicated to the needs and interests of children would.
The group specifically wants to pursue something similar to the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, with permanent exhibits exploring themes such as energy, transportation, science and technology, nature and culture.
Starting a children’s museum won’t be cheap and is likely years away from opening, Hastings and other supporters said, noting the financial demands of such an endeavor. That’s why this summer’s exhibit at CBC is important to gauge public interest.
The $17,000 needed to bring the OMSI exhibit to the region is being supported by Bruce Heating & AC, McCurley Subaru, the college and the Mid-Columbia Libraries, though more donors still are needed.
“This is a proof of concept,” Hastings said. “If it does work well, we’d like to double the next exhibit for next summer and drum up more support.”
CBC President Rich Cummins said he was more than willing to work with Hastings’ group, as a STEM-centered children’s museum would fit well into the college’s own STEM goals. Having one also would make sense for a community of the size and diversity of the Tri-Cities.
“It just needs to be harmonized,” he said.
Learn more about the children’s museum effort at www.hihotricities.com.