Groundbreaking for proposed Port Angeles marine science center planned for summer
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A rendering of a proposed marine science and conference center at the corner of Front and Oak streets in Port Angeles. Neeser Construction Inc.

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Groundbreaking for a proposed 33,500-square-foot marine science center project at the corner of Front and Oak streets is on schedule for July 15, according to the engineer, although the potential buyer won’t comment on the status of the sale of the land.

Scott Horner of Bios LLC, a Bainbridge Island aquarium planning and design engineering company, on Tuesday gave Port of Port Angeles commissioners a date for beginning construction on a three-story structure that would house marine science facilities and a conference center.

Gary Donnelly, project administrator of Neeser Construction Inc. of Anchorage, Alaska — which has agreed to buy the 1.96-acre plot of land from Tod McClaskey Jr. of Camas, the owner of Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles — declined to discuss whether the sale has been completed.

“I can’t comment on that today,” he said, adding that the latest construction might start is in August.

“We are keeping a progressive schedule,” Donnelly said.

He said the grand opening of the first phase is expected in late summer 2015 and that the center would create between 30 and 50 new tourism jobs.

A deed transferring ownership to Neeser had not been filed as of Tuesday with the Clallam County Auditor’s Office.

McClaskey could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Horner told the two commissioners present — Colleen McAleer and Jim Hallett — that the company will ask them at a later date to allow a seawater intake system to be installed on the port’s Pier 4 next to the proposed development.

Commissioner John Calhoun had an excused absence from the meeting, the other commissioners said.

The intake would be 6 or 8 feet above the sea floor and 22 feet deep, and would have a large sump tank to store fresh seawater for aquarium and lab use if there are issues with red tide, an oil spill or other problems with the source water.

McAleer said the port had been approached by new commercial fishing operations for increased use of the dock and asked whether the intake system could be used to also support future commercial fishing projects.

Horner said the system could be adjusted for multiple levels of need, including fishery operations.

McAleer expressed concerns about possible interference with commercial fishing boat unloading operations, pollution of the sea floor under the dock and the quality of water intake.

Horner said the sea floor under the dock seems to be in better shape than that around the seawater intake for another of the company’s other projects: the Seattle Aquarium.

McAleer and Hallett expressed qualified support for the use of the dock.

“I am supportive as long as our main uses are protected,” McAleer said.

Hallett said he was happy to support community development and added jobs in Port Angeles, so long as they don’t interfere with port operations.

The first of two planned phases of the science center project would include a multistory conference facility and several retail shops, a restaurant, classrooms space and possibly an outdoor aquarium space, according to preliminary plans Neeser officials have discussed with city staff.

The second phase would house shared classroom, exhibit and laboratory space for the Feiro Marine Life Center and potentially offices for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Olympic National Marine Sanctuary, which has outgrown its own space in The Landing mall.

Final designs of the phases are in flux, as decisions continue to be made on how the buildings will be used by such tenants as Feiro.

Feiro officials are awaiting the finalization of the project but haven’t yet signed contracts, said Melissa Williams, Feiro executive director.

“I feel positive about the prospect,” she said.

The collaborative effort to create a space for many different potential tenants is a slow process to make sure everyone’s needs are met, Williams said.

Preliminary building and property layout designs have been submitted to the city for pre-building permits.

Those plans are under review, said Nathan West, director of economic and community development for the city.

City officials plan to begin construction in July on a city West End Park adjacent to the proposed marine science center and the pier, he said.

The City Council is expected to award a construction bid Tuesday.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 27. 2014 7:02PM
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