Powerhouse Project Approved by Sacramento Planning Commission
Science center’s entitlements OK'd, plans progress
Fundraising is ramping up for the $50M Powerhouse Science Center
Date: Friday, September 30, 2011, 3:00am PDT
Staff Writer – Sacramento Business Journal
The $50 million Powerhouse Science Center, proposed for just north of Old Sacramento, is on track to break ground early next year.
The science center passed a major milestone Thursday when Sacramento’s planning commission unanimously approved entitlements for the project, which aims to convert a prominent vacant historic building into a science museum targeted at children.
Now supporters are ramping up efforts to raise money for construction.
Fundraising has been going on since 2007. In April the center received $7 million from Proposition 84, a 2006 bond measure that raised money for natural resources and waterways.
As the center gets closer to obtaining building permits, it becomes less speculative and more interesting to donors, said Michelle Wong, executive director of the effort to open the center.
Wong said major donors are poised to give, but couldn’t be more specific.
Supporters raised $4 million in pre-development funding. And there are ongoing efforts to get grants, public funding and to sell naming rights, said Wong, also chief executive of Synergex International Corp., a Gold River-based software development firm.
“We have worked really hard to make sure we are in a good position at every step of the way,” said Beth Callahan, director of marketing and development for the Discovery Museum Science & Space Center.
The Powerhouse Science Center would become the new home for the Discovery Museum, a 28-year-old museum at 3615 Auburn Blvd. That museum attracts 65,000 visitors a year, many of them students. The museum can’t keep up with demand because it’s 4,000 square feet and only can accommodate 60 people at a time.
The new site is on the American River Bike Trail overlooking the Sacramento River. The center will include a 346-space parking ga
rage, offering access to what is now a remote location.
The proposed center envisions an 81,000 square-foot campus, including science displays, planetarium, classrooms, labs, cafe, store and a NASA Challenger Learning Center. Plans are being drawn by Dreyfuss & Blackford Architects in a design/build association with Otto Construction.
The building’s design has gone through many iterations since Jason Silva, partner and design principal with Dreyfuss & Blackford, started working on it in 2007. The latest plans call for attaching the existing power center building — the shell of a 1912 powerhouse — to a new wing, quadrupling the amount of usable space. “The Science Center demanded a sufficient amount of space to make it successful,” Silva said.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. built the 19,500-square-foot plant in 1912 to hold four massive steel boilers and steam turbines. It closed in 1954, and all the equipment was stripped out of it.
For a couple of years, the land adjacent to the plant was used as a metal salvage yard. That contributed to serious lead soil contamination, and the site was listed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund National Priority List in the 1970s. The state paid for soil remediation and the installation of clay caps to keep water from leaching into the subsurface of the soil. The site was removed from the Superfund list in 1991 but is still monitored. The City of Sacramento owns the land and the building.
“The architects and engineers on this project have had to stretch out to work on this site,” Callahan said. The site’s strongest suit is its location. It is atop the levee and visible to anyone entering downtown from southbound Interstate 5. It is across from the former Southern Pacific railyards, which is the country’s largest urban infill project at 240 acres.
Remediation created additional building costs, but it also opened funding opportunities, Callahan said, because there are grants and programs for re-using and reclaiming brownfields and industrial sites. “This building will be more beautiful than it ever has been,” Callahan said.
The project is scheduled to go before the city’s preservation committee Oct. 5, said Antonio Ablog, city associate planner.