Olympia accepts financial plan for new children's museum

OLYMPIA - The Hands On Children's Museum has rolled out its financing plan for a new $18.5 million museum on East Bay.a new $18.5

The Olympia City Council voted 4-3 to receive the plan Tuesday night — which was required before the end of the year because Public Facilities District revenue is involved.

The vote was split because some members wanted to accept the report, as the city manager suggested, or receive it. Some council members argued against accepting it because financing for the building is not final.

The children’s museum proposes to build a 27,000 square foot facility and 30,000 square feet of outdoor space, executive director Patty Belmonte said. The museum would replace its rented space at 106 11th Ave. S.W., which has about 10,400 square feet.

Construction would begin in the middle of next year, Belmonte said, and the indoor galleries are expected to open by the end of 2011, with the outdoor space to follow in 2012.

While details haven’t been set, the galleries will feature topics such as Puget Sound, the forest, early learning and healthy living, Belmonte said. Outdoors, children could build forts out of driftwood, play on a multilevel tugboat and explore a wildlife habitat garden.

It would cost $13.5 million for the land, site preparation and building, $4 million for exhibits, and $1 million for furnishing, fixtures and equipment. The city of Olympia is paying $8.9 million for the museum, $7.9 million of which is from Public Facilities District dollars, a share of state sales tax to go toward regional projects.

The museum is fundraising for the rest. It secured $2.5 million in cash, grants, pledges and in-kind materials in 2009. That was $1 million short of the museum’s goal, the report says, but it has been a difficult year for fundraising. Belmonte said the museum also raised about $1.5 million in 2008. “We have $5.4 million to go,” she said.

The museum is trying to secure a $5 million loan from the USDA in partnership with Thurston First Bank as a sort a bridge before funds can be raised. Belmonte said she expected final approval by the end of January.

Financing isn’t the only hurdle for the project. The Port of Olympia’s project to add streets and utilities to access the museum has been delayed because of a dispute with the contractor. That caused the city to extend its closing date on the purchase of port property for the museum until April 2010, interim assistant city manager Jay Burney said.

The Public Facilities District requires that construction begin by the end of 2010.

But Belmonte said she doesn’t expect the port delays to affect the museum’s construction schedule because it’s not slated to begin until the middle of next year. She said that 90 percent of the underground work on the port site is complete, “so there isn’t really a lot that has to be finished.”