A $2 million building to house Hanford’s history and anchor STEM tourism

A new building in north Richland will bring together the area’s atomic history under one roof and, officials hope, welcome tourists drawn to the community’s achievements in science, technology, engineering and math.

The Port of Benton has been granted a permit to build a $2 million home for the Hanford History Project, currently hosted by Washington State University’s Tri-Cities. It is the first of several buildings that will celebrate science and history at 3251 Port of Benton Blvd. in northern Richland.

Future phases will add museum-like spaces and a potential new home for the Manhattan Project National Historic Park and display material related to the USS Triton nuclear submarine as well as the new LIGO Hanford Exploration Center.

Port officials intended to build the complex as a single development, but opted to develop in phases pending grant funding, said Miles Thomas, director of economic development for the port. Last year, he refinanced his debt, freeing up about $4 million to support his vision for a STEM center to welcome visitors and support the history project.

The center will allow tourists to learn more about Hanford and other science initiatives in the Tri-Cities, said Kim Shugart, senior vice president of Visit Tri-Cities, who sees STEM as a competitive advantage when it comes to is about attracting visitors. .

“There are very few communities that have such a diversity of STEM assets,” she said.

As the port seeks additional funding for the entire project, the Hanford History Project needs space for its growing collection of equipment and documents associated with the nuclear site.

The building will provide the Archivist, Curator and other project staff with private office space as well as space to assess materials. Thomas said this means more material will be available for public display.

For example, if the Reach Museum in Richland wanted to mount an exhibit on what the Hanford site looked like in the 1960s, the curators do not have enough space to work in their current quarters but could do so at coming.

The Hanford History Project collects stories as well as documents and equipment related to the Manhattan Project and Hanford’s subsequent mission to produce plutonium for the nation’s nuclear arsenal, and now, to clean up the legacy of materials radioactive and toxic.

Michael Mays, its director, was traveling and was unavailable for comment, but Thomas estimates that paper records make up 25% of the collection. This increases as the US Department of Energy transfers documents to the archives to support a formal chronology of the Hanford site.

Thomas said the physical objects provide revealing insight into the work that took place at the top-secret Hanford site. Phone booths, equipment, and meteorological and laboratory models have all found their way into the project archives, with a few exceptions.

“No hot materials,” he said.

The collection even includes Cold War-era materials awaiting declassification.

The city approved the permit for the 7,810 square foot building in May.

Booth & Sons Construction Inc. led the way in early June.

Thomas said the initial building is practical in design but echoes the modern design lines of Fire Station 75, the new fire station at Battelle Boulevard and Port of Benton Boulevard.

The location also celebrates the non-Hanford science stars of the Tri-Cities.

The USS Triton Sail Park and the new LIGO Hanford Exploratory Center (LExC) are easily accessible.

Triton Sail Park, an immediate neighbor, is the final resting place of the conning tower of the nuclear-powered submarine, which in the early 1960s became the first to circumnavigate the world almost entirely underwater.

The STEM Center will house archives and equipment related to Triton to better tell its story.

The Triton reactors, descendants of the technology developed on the Hanford site, have been decommissioned and placed on the Hanford central plateau.

The center will also include a kiosk to direct visitors to LExC, which is to the northwest.

When it opens, LExC will tell the story of the science behind gravity wave detection work at the twin Gravitational Wave Laser Interferometer observatories in Hanford and Louisiana.

The work earned the three principals the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics – a double of which is displayed in the center.

Tourism officials believe that, taken together, Triton, B Reactor, LExC and the others are a powerful draw for science-minded tourists.

Visitors spent nearly $490 million in Benton and Franklin counties in 2021 and paid nearly $55 million in local and state sales taxes. Tourism figures are on track to surpass the pre-pandemic record set in 2019.

Visit Tri-Cities, which takes a broad view of STEM that includes local geology and agriculture as well as hard science, offers family-friendly itineraries and notes that they are suitable for residents as well as tourists.

“I bet there are people living here who don’t know what’s in their backyard,” Shugart said.

Go to: tricities.wsu.edu/hanfordhistory and visittri-cities.com.

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