Crews broke ground on the Dungeness River Audubon Center’s approximate $3.5 million expansion project last week.
To celebrate, organizers of the Inspire Wonder capital campaign held a virtual groundbreaking on July 13 to mark the success of a three-year effort to add more than 5,000 square feet for educational and meeting spaces, a commercial kitchen, new entryway, parking and more.
“This virtual ceremony is the most unusual groundbreaking I’ve ever been to,” said W. Ron Allen, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Chair and CEO.
“I look forward to one year from now, when we can see and talk to each other onsite to celebrate the grand opening. The Tribe is delighted and honored to be a partner in this amazing resource that is a centerpiece of the peninsula. We raise our hands to express our deep appreciation to all who have made this project possible.”
Videos were shown of Loni Grinnell-Greninger, Tribal Council vice-chair, blessing the site, and Kirk Nelson, the tribe’s facilities and construction manager, breaking the first ground on the project.
The center was incorporated in 1994 as part of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s Railroad Bridge Park on the Dungeness River. It’s run by the tribe, Dungeness River Audubon Center, the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and National Audubon Society.
Stakeholders with the center said the existing 1,600-square-foot building is too small for programs, exhibits and meetings with standing room only for many events.
Capital Campaign Chair Annette Hanson said at the virtual meeting, “Our future is awesome.
“In 2019, we recorded 220,000 crossings of the bridge, we engaged 4264 children in hands-on science, and served 19,277 people in educational programs.
Imagine how many more people can benefit from the Center and Park when the expansion is complete.”
Center representatives said construction could begin as soon as August with the expansion expected to be complete by summer 2021.
Dependent on fundraising, a remodel of the existing building could begin soon after the expansion’s grand opening, stakeholders said, with exhibits and interpretive displays in the planning and grant writing stages.
The tribe purchased 4.5 acres of land east of the center in 2016 for a new entrance into the park.
Inspire Wonder organizers announced their campaign in June 2018 after they secured 40 percent of the project’s then-budget.
The project went to bid in April after 95 percent of funding was secured, but two bids were higher than budget because of COVID-19 concerns, organizers said. Instead, the tribe will serve as general contractor and seek local sub-contractors.
In part, 18.5 percent of funding came from community support to the Inspire Wonder campaign, more than 20 percent from the tribe, and 59.5 percent from grants — including $1.5 million from Washington taxpayers.
Among those in attendance of the virtual meeting was State Rep. Steve Tharinger (D-Port Townsend), chairman for the House Capital Budget, who said the center “has been a fabulous community asset through the years and it has a great future.”
Tharinger added, “It is another example of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s commitment to the greater community. (The) center has a huge impact on the lives of kids and families, providing many touches with nature.”
Other speakers including State Rep. Mike Chapman (D-Port Angeles) and Ken Wiersema, education chair for the Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society.
Railroad Bridge Park and the current parking areas will remain open during construction but some temporary closures on the Olympic Discovery Trail will occur a few times during construction. Detours will be identified and the bridge will remain open.
Stakeholders said the Dungeness River Audubon Center is currently closed because of statewide COVID-19 health restrictions, and will remain closed through the construction period for safety concerns.
However, outdoor education and virtual programs and other learning opportunities online will continue.
The picnic shelter and the amphitheater will remain open during construction, too.
For more information about the project or to donate online, visit www.dungenessrivercenter.org or contact Hanson at 360-670-6774 or Annette_Hanson@msn.com.