Our Voice: Dream of Hanford Reach looking more like reality

After years of false starts, the Hanford Reach Interpretive Center is finally on a roll.

With the awarding of construction and design contracts this month, we finally believe we'll see the organization move from an exciting concept to an actual facility after more than 10 years of talking.

We're also glad to see the museum organizers chose to go with local firms for the design. We don't see many projects of this type in our region, and it's important that local businesses get this kind of high-profile work on their home turf.

We've seen grand concepts for the facility scaled down to more realistic terms, and as a result, we're finally gaining confidence the center will be complete in 2014.

Terence L. Thornhill Architect of Pasco will be responsible for the design portion of the project and DGR Grant Construction of Richland is the builder.

Drawings released by Thornhill show the building itself will reflect the history of the region through visual cues correlating to the Missoula Floods, Native American longhouses and the B Reactor at Hanford.

Thornhill says he wants the building's exterior to tell the story so the visitors' experiences begin before they've even walked inside. Evidence of Thornhill's practice of this concept can be seen at the ag-themed SAGE Center at the Port of Morrow, a very cool building under construction that has drivers turning their heads along Interstate 84.

The Reach building will house two galleries, with a total footprint of 5,000 to 6,500 square feet. A theater room, multi-purpose room, office space and a store also will be included, and a great hall will have views of the Columbia River. The landscaping also will reflect the themes of the museum.

The design and construction phase is expected to cost $3.35 million, with a start date this summer.

Apollo Inc. in Kennewick also received the nod to do the nearly $3 million of site work in preparation for the building construction, creating roads and extending water and sewer to the 18-acre site at the west end of Columbia Park. The site work is expected to begin in March.

It has been a long road for the museum to get to this point. Its original site failed to pass federal muster, and fundraising stalled in a community that grew weary of discussion and increasingly doubtful that this day would come.

Reality set in with the arrival of a new CEO and some motivated board members. But even then, a re-bid on the initial site work was needed, major donors expressed doubts while others stepped up, and the board initiated a further down-sizing of what had once been envisioned as a 13,000-square-foot great hall.

We have a lot of faith in the team now guiding the Reach project, but like the rest of the community, we need to see results this time around.

The project already had one ground-breaking ceremony in 2011, but we're a lot less interested in golden shovels than we are in seeing excavating equipment finally started on the real dirty work in the months ahead.