The Richland Public Facilities District Board on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to slash the agency's operating budget by 30 percent, or $290,000.
Executive Director Lisa Toomey told the board that would include voluntary salary cuts by some employees, but no layoffs.
She said she couldn't raise the amount of money likely needed to build the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center without the six staff members currently working under her.
"I've got to have warm bodies, and I've got to have the ones here," she said. "I can't train new people."
Toomey said she needed people who know the project and have passion for it to go out into the community to raise money -- and that includes the five district board members.
"This is about all of us," she said. "We all have to own this, or it is not going to happen."
Board members Fred Raab, Rick Jansons, Nick Ceto and Dan Boyd unanimously agreed that Toomey is taking the budget in the right direction, but want more details about specific cuts at a meeting in April.
Newly appointed board member Steve Simmons was absent.
The proposed 30 percent cut brings the budget from about $992,000 to about $700,000. The budget includes a one-time $125,000 severance payment to former CEO Kimberly Camp, who left the district at the end of December.
Also Wednesday, the board continued discussions about splitting construction of the interpretive center into two stages and building a self-contained 26,000-square-foot museum first, and adding the remainder of the planned 61,000 square feet sometime in the future.
Architect Johnpaul Jones of Jones & Jones came from Seattle for a public workshop to discuss the scaled-down version of the museum, and told the board that the cost to build the smaller version of the museum would run about $12 million.
Jones' estimate included $7.8 million for construction at $300 per square foot, $1 million for utilities and site work, $3 million for revisions to the design, permitting and construction management, and $250,000 for furniture and fixtures.
But in the meeting that followed the workshop, Jansons questioned Jones' estimates and said he thought the fees being charged by Jones are too high.
"I don't want to argue every one of these, but I think Jones & Jones is high by a lot," he said. "We're paying for condos somewhere."
Jansons said in his experience as Richland School Board president, construction should cost closer to $250 per square foot, and Jones shouldn't be charging an extra $735,000 fee for construction observation.
Jansons suggested the facilities district could get an entirely new 26,000-square-foot building design for less than what Jones & Jones estimated a redesign would cost.
Ceto countered that he had looked at other options, and thought the redesign was the best way to both cut costs and preserve the vision for the interpretive center.
"I agree there's lots of places to save money," he said. "I don't think we should throw out this building concept."
The board agreed unanimously to get an independent evaluation of the costs before making a final decision, but generally embraced the idea of a smaller interpretive center.
"We're all worried about the cost here," Boyd said. "In the end, to me this is the path forward we need to take. We don't know all the numbers yet, but in the end we're going to throw everything on the table and figure out how to make it work."
-- Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org