Richland council puts Reach on the right track

We love it when a plan comes together, even when it takes longer than it seems like it should.

But a couple of long-lingering projects have gotten big financial boosts in recent days, including the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center.

Significant changes in the management and the Richland Public Facilities Board have breathed new life into the project.

A more realistic development plan and Lockheed Martin MSA's donation of the services of a skilled construction manager have bolstered confidence in the museum's future.

The retooling of the project has seemed to bring Richland City Council fully on board, with the council going so far as to give the project $700,000 in unused Washington State Department of Transportation funds designated for the city.

At the same time, the council accepted the interpretive center's budget and operations plan. It also gave the project more flexibility by amending the city's sublease with the Richland PFD to lower the required financial reserves for the facility's contingency fund and extend the deadline for construction to begin.

In the words of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Director Mike Kluse, the money from the city is certain to "make a tremendous difference in the project."

The city had the money in its six-year transportation plan, but it needed to be earmarked for a shovel-ready project by the end of this year, and the museum fit the bill.

The dollars will be spent on the first phase to prep the site at the west end of Columbia Park and build a road with the necessary infrastructure for the project.

The Army Corps of Engineers owns the land, which is leased to Richland. In turn, the city created a sublease for the facilities district to build the interpretive center on the site.

The sublease includes requirements that the project is completed in a responsible and timely fashion. Those are reasonable requirements, so long as the definitions of responsible and timely aren't too restrictive.

The project went out to bid earlier this year, but the bids were higher than expected, forcing the project's leadership to rethink the plan.

The project has been scaled down from the original grandiose plan for a 61,000-square-foot facility to a first-phase building of 12,000 to 17,000 square feet.

A change to the sublease now has a $250,000 bond reserve, three months of operating reserve and a contingency fund of $18 per square foot of building space, with a maximum total of $1 million.

The amendments to the sublease's contingency fund were appropriate for the scaled back project, city staff said. We agree.

The contingency fund would be used by the city if the project fails to modify the building or restore the property.

Richland councilmembers have shown good faith in the new direction of the interpretive center, with these recent actions clearing a path for the project to move forward quickly.

Now it's up to the Reach leadership to deliver.