Reach museum to welcome interim director while it searches for new CEO

A former member of the Reach museum’s governing board is stepping in as the facility’s interim director while a permanent CEO is sought

Nick Ceto starts this week. He’s filling the director role on a volunteer basis.

Officials don’t expect to have a new CEO in place until at least March.

The person chosen will replace Lisa Toomey, who joined the Reach in 2012 and oversaw its transformation from a stalled project to a brick-and-mortar facility that draws thousands each year.

Toomey retired in December.

Dan Boyd, president of the Richland Public Facilities District board — the Reach’s governing board — said her contributions to the Reach are significant.

“She pulled this thing off, she got it going” and has run it without significant subsidies from government entities, he said. “I don’t know if there are many people who could make happen what she made happen.”

The Reach hasn’t had an easy road. The effort to build the museum started not long after President Bill Clinton established the 196,000-acre Hanford Reach National Monument in 2000.

At first, officials envisioned a larger facility at Columbia Point south. But problems arose with that site, and fundraising slowed as the recession set in and public confidence in the project dipped.

Eventually, the museum got new life with a scaled-back vision and new leadership.

It opened in summer 2014 at the west end of Columbia Park. While it’s proved to be a popular attraction, it has — like many new museums — experienced tight finances.

Officials reduced the museum’s hours, laid off some staffers and stepped up fundraising in response.

The Reach board recently approved a $794,000 budget for 2017. It includes no layoffs and factors in a full-time CEO, with a $50,000 pledge from an area company helping cover the cost. Boyd didn’t want to name the donor company at this point because it hasn’t yet officially announced the pledge.

The budget does include a transfer of about $274,000 from the debt service fund.

“It’d be nice to have more contributions, it’d be nice to have more carryover money. But we’re doing the best we can to make it all happen,” Boyd said.

The Reach tells important stories, including about the Manhattan Project and its role in World War II, he said.

“We’re hoping, through time, that we can help educate more and more people about what happened here. What happened here made a huge difference,” he said.

Boyd said he’s optimistic about the Reach’s future.

Toomey is too. Although she’s retiring from the Reach, she’ll still be working in the community.

She’s been named the director of Columbia Basin and Yakima Valley programs for Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest.

She said she’s excited about the new job, but she’ll miss the Reach.

The community stepped up to help make the museum happen, and “what came out of (the long road to its opening) was something far more incredible than what any of us could imagine. I think this building is exactly what we were supposed to do,” Toomey said.

She added that, “I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes next.”

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald