Reach Interpretive Center building to be done in phases

Running short on time and money, the Richland Public Facilities District boardvoted Monday to abandon an earlier plan for constructing an impressively sized Hanford Reach Interpretive Center in favor of pursuing something more affordable and doable in phases.

The board voted unanimously to follow the advice of Executive Director Lisa Toomey, who said decisions had to happen Monday if there is any chance of meeting a timeline for receiving pledged financial support for the project.

"There has been too much waffling for too long," said board member Nicholas Ceto before making the motion to cease activities with Jones & Jones Architects, which developed the original plans for a $40.5 million interpretive center, initially planned for construction at Columbia Point.

What began as a grand plan has met a series of setbacks that included losing the site at Columbia Point, cost-cutting personnel changes on the Reach staff and a flagging national and state economy that has stymied fundraising efforts.

Toomey told the board Monday that it was vital to "move away from what we have and go with a phased approach for a new structure."

Toomey said construction on a new project must occur before next June or a $500,000 pledge from an important donor might disappear.

She noted that time was short for preparing a request for proposals.

"We've already spent $3 million at Columbia Park West, so scheduling is a huge issue," Toomey said.

She wants the request for proposals to go out by Sept. 3 so the winning company can have at least six months to put a final design together.

Board President Fred Raab and board member Rick Jansons cautioned against being too hasty, based on past issues.

"There's reason to be cautious," said Raab, noting that the previous facilities district board with a different CEO also made some assumptions.

"I think we can afford to wait a week or two, or even a month," Jansons said.

The board talked for almost an hour before agreeing to move as quickly as possible with developing a project in phases, as long as it didn't involve paying someone to draw up more plans at this stage in the process.

Also Monday, the board voted unanimously to transfer $135,000 from a debt service account to the operations account, which has been dwindling to zero.

"We're out of money, and we need to do something today. We have a $135,000 shortfall for this year (in operations)," said Dan Boyd, the board's finance officer.

Boyd said the quick fix will carry through to the new year, but if more money can't be brought in for the Reach Interpretive Center project's operations account soon, another infusion of funds will be needed in January or February at the latest.

The facilities district board plans to meet every Monday in August to help fast-track decisions and get the 10-year-old project moving as quickly as possible.

-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com