by Inlander Staff

Sustainable Science Center? - SPOKANE -- Public-private partnership carries the scent of controversy in Spokane, but while lawyers are mediating on River Park Square, another presumably more amiable partnership is crystallizing. The Spokane Parks Board is hammering out an agreement with a nonprofit group to build a science center and 3D IMAX theater on the north bank of the river.

This partnership features a nonprofit group, so the dynamics are probably different than with a shopping mall developer.

A longtime dream for many, a Spokane science center was the topic that Parks and Recreation Department officials asked builders and architects around the country to consider this spring. More than 40 showed up in late January to talk about the idea, but just one followed up, officials say. That was the Inland Northwest Science and Technology Center, according to Parks staffer Paul Crutchfield. The organization (shorthanded as INSTC and pronounced "insect") has partnered with Seattle's Pacific Science Center and sustainability architect William McDonough, among others, says Chairman Chris Majer.

"Here's an opportunity for us to do something that's not the typical Spokane approach, which is to build a Costco-type building and put a science center in it for as cheap as we can. Instead, let's make the building part of the science," says Majer, mentioning new-age structures that generate energy and clean the water they use -- just like the projects highlighted by McDonough when he spoke at the recent One Spokane Summit.

One thing to work out is the scope of the project. Parks officials have used numbers in the $15 million range to estimate the cost of a science center.

Majer says the project will likely cost more than twice that, adding that INSTC is trying to raise the money without asking for any new taxes.

Even if that's accomplished, there's still a "tricky part" left, says Majer: Science centers lose money. What's the solution?

"We don't need six acres to build a science center," says Majer. So INSTC has proposed that the city lease it the entire North Bank property, and let it sublet several acres to some other complementary tenant. They'd use the sublet tenant's lease money to offset losses, explains Majer. The parties are still discussing that proposal, along with numerous other details.

One the Bad List - SPOKANE -- The Sierra Club has just released its "Smart Choices, Less Traffic" report, which documents 49 transportation projects -- good or bad -- across the nation. Spokane's north-south freeway project ended up on the bad list.

"The proposed eight-lane North Spokane Freeway will reduce the livability of our region because it encourages people to live outside of Spokane," says Christy Lafayette of 1,000 Friends of Washington. "It will divide existing neighborhoods, gobble up farmland and open spaces and create new traffic problems."

The Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT) has already begun construction of the US 395-North Spokane Corridor -- which is not intended just for cars. When completed, the approximately $1.3 billion project will include more than 10 miles of bike and walking paths, as well as enough room in the middle of the new road to accommodate an eventual light rail line.

The part of the US 395 north Spokane corridor that especially infuriates the Sierra Club -- and many neighborhood organizations as well -- is the widening of the US I-90 stretch that goes through downtown Spokane and the East Central Neighborhood.

"Unplanned sprawling growth is always followed by more pavement and traffic congestion," says Chase Davis, the Sierra Club's local spokesman.

The DOT maintains that the widening of the freeway and the new North Spokane Corridor is badly needed to relieve traffic congestion and improve a freeway that's outdated.

"We've needed the widening of I-90 for a long time to handle the traffic we have today," said Al Gilson of DOT in Spokane earlier this year. "Take a look at the ruts in that road. That freeway was designed and built almost 50 years ago. It wasn't designed for the traffic volume we have today."

No transportation projects in either Idaho or Washington made the Sierra Club's good list. In the Northwest, only the Missoula in Motion program (where commuters pledge to get to work by other means than alone in their cars once a week) got a thumbs-up, as did the FlexCar project (which lets car-less commuters share 35 vehicles parked throughout the city) in Portland.

Minecraft: The Exhibition @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Dec. 31
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