Reach CEO to ‘keep listening’ to community in new year

The Reach center is at the west end of Columbia Park.
The Reach center is at the west end of Columbia Park. Tri-City Herald

The Reach center in Richland has drawn about 70,000 visitors since it opened last year.

It’s also welcomed thousands of students, put on workshops for community members young and old, brought in new exhibits and been the site of events from live theater productions to a Native American heritage celebration that saw dancers and drummers “blow the roof off the place,” in the words of the chief executive officer.

“I liken (running the Reach) to being in a chess game,” said Lisa Toomey, CEO. “You have to look five or six moves ahead — you’re looking at trends in the community, the museum industry, the economy.”

I liken (running the Reach) to being in a chess game. You have to look five or six moves ahead — you’re looking at trends in the community, the museum industry, the economy.

Lisa Toomey, Reach CEO

The hybrid museum, interpretive center and performing arts venue sits at the west end of Columbia Park.

Its path to completion was rocky at times, with site issues and the economic recession contributing to years of delays.

But the project gained momentum with new leadership and a scaled-back vision, and it opened its doors in summer 2014.

The first year saw financial challenges and successes, from higher-than-anticipated operating costs to saving about $500,000 through bond refinancing.

Last July, Reach officials announced plans to continue bolstering the center’s finances, including seeking more grants and stepping up fundraising.

Officials last week said they feel good about where the Reach is now.

The Richland Public Facilities District board, which oversees the center, adopted a $1 million operating budget for 2016.

The budget is conservative and realistic, officials said.

“I’m confident in it, but we will watch it. We’ll look closely at it on a monthly basis,” said Dan Boyd, board secretary/treasurer.

The Reach’s 14,000-square-foot ground floor includes two main galleries, a multipurpose room, space for rotating exhibits, an office, a store and a great hall overlooking the Columbia River.

Gallery 1 holds an exhibit on the Hanford Reach and surrounding land through time, while Gallery 2 tells of the Manhattan Project and the Hanford site’s early days.

The center brought in new displays — from one on Energy Northwest to another on the Naval Air Station. Cold War exhibit is planned for the new year.

The main exhibits have seen enhancements since the Reach opened, and the center also has brought in new displays to tell more of the region’s story — from one on Energy Northwest to another on the Naval Air Station in Pasco.

In the new year, officials will work on a Cold War exhibit for the rotating gallery — a sort-of teaser for a larger exhibit envisioned down the road.

The Reach’s education and tour programs also have been going strong.

The center has worked with about 15,000 students since 2012 — its education program started before the building opened — and Toomey said literacy, pre-kindergarten offerings and under-served youth will be focuses in 2016.

The Reach also plans to offer 19 tours next year, up from 10 this year.

The tours that tie in the Ice Age Floods have proven most popular, and Toomey said the tour program is drawing people from beyond the Tri-Cities — a goal from the start.

70,000 visitors since it opened last year

15,000 students in education programs since 2012

10 tours offered this year

Toomey also authored Manhattan Project at Hanford Site, which includes scores of historic photos. It’s set for release Dec. 21, and hundreds of copies already have been reserved. The book can be purchased through online retailers and the Reach.

Toomey will sign copies at the Reach from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Dec. 21. Only a limited number of non-reserved copies will be on hand; to reserve a copy, contact the Reach.

Toomey also plans books about the Manhattan Project at the Oak Ridge and Los Alamos sites.

As for the Reach center, she said officials will continue doing their best to tell the region’s stories and offer what the community wants.

“We just have to keep doing the right thing. Our community will tell us (what they want),” Toomey said. “I think we just have to keep listening.”

The Reach is at 1943 Columbia Park Trail. Contact: www.visitthereach.org, 509-943-4100.

Sara Schilling: 509-582-1529, @SaraTCHerald