Opinion

Heritage Center is a great vision

In a strong showing of bipartisan support, the Legislature has approved the Heritage Center - a grand building that will showcase the history of the state and give visitors a place to start tours of Washington's magnificent Capitol Campus.

Over the next decade, the campus - the crown jewel of Olympia - will undergo an incredible transformation. The centerpiece of the renovation will be the Heritage Center built on the bluff overlooking Capitol Lake. The $111 million center will house the history of the state in a monumental style building - akin to the domed Legislative Building and the Temple of Justice.

"This building will be a center for the priceless, historical treasures of the State Archives, the State Library and the State Capital Museum's exhibits," said Secretary of State Sam Reed, the primary advocate for the Heritage Center. "Colorful displays and interactive exhibits will immerse visitors in the story of our past and inspire a thirst for all history has to offer. In Washington, D.C., you can walk inside the National Archives, and you are blown away by history. Visitors immediately get a sense of our nation, who we are and what we believe. Visitors to our state Capitol deserve the same."

By a vote of 82-15, the House passed Senate Bill 5882, a bill that will raise incorporation fees by $5 and documentation fees at county auditor offices - such as marriage licenses - by $2 to pay for the Heritage Center. The Senate vote was 45-1. In addition to the fees authorized in the legislation, the Heritage Center will be paid for by diverting existing rents from the Library building and a major private fundraising campaign.

"This is a big vision, long range. But that is how state government should be," said Sen. Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County, who ushered the plan through the Legislature. Her plan also calls for the demolition of the ugly Department of General Administration Building. The agencies in that building will move into about $200 million worth of new offices on the east campus along Wheeler Avenue. The construction of the Heritage Center and a $75 million Executive Office Building on top of it can begin in the 2009 budget cycle.

It's a fabulous vision backed by a stupendous plan.

Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro was ecstatic, saying Reed and his team deserve tons of credit for getting the measure passed. "When Gov. John Spellman was here in 1984, we first discussed the need for this kind of facility on the state Capitol grounds," Munro said. "Later, when (former first lady Jean) Gardner and I became co-chairs for the Washington Centennial Celebration, this type of Heritage Center was one of our top priorities. We could never find the votes or the money.

"It is like a dream come true for the Heritage community," Munro said. "Our state's history is a rich one, and it deserves to be properly told to the thousands of school children who visit our state Capitol. This is a great step forward for our state Capitol."

We agree. Construction of this monumental building and ancillary buildings are an incredible gift to future generations of Washington residents.

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