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Wine Science Center Streamlines Budget

Square footage of WSU's design-build project changed to fit programming needs

by Peter Mitham
Completion of the Wine Science Center is slated for early 2015.
Richland, Wash.—With juice from a record harvest in the cellar and investment from California moving in as space at custom-crush facilities runs out, the Washington state wine industry continues to invest in its future.

Richland municipal staff issued a building permit earlier this month for the Wine Science Center that Washington State University is building adjacent to its Tri-Cities campus in Richland through the Wine Science Center Development Authority.

The authority brings together WSU, Richland and the Port of Benton as well as the wine industry—no small financial contributor to the center, which is being built on a budget of approximately $23 million.

Most recently, Mercer Canyons Inc. and the Mercer family announced a contribution of $250,000 during the annual meeting of the Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers. The cash will fund a greenhouse for the center.

The donation follows a pledge of at least $7.4 million the Washington State Wine Commission is raising through an assessment on members, as well as early contributions of $100,000 from each of the Baseler and Hedges families.

All told, the project has attracted approximately $19 million in contributions since 2010—just $4 million shy of the budgeted cost.

Donations from the wine industry and suppliers have been augmented by more than $7 million in federal and state funding as well as a contribution of land by the Port of Benton.

“It’s investing in their future, and they see this facility as a core foundational block in that,” Ben McLuen, director of development with the Office of Alumni and Friends at WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences, said of industry contributions.

Ground broke last fall for the center, the most significant industry partnership on a single building the college has ever undertaken. While the college partnered with the grain industry for its plant-growth facilities, the Wine Science Center will be “an epicenter of research and extension” that McLuen said will be “synonymous” with the industry.

A design-build process promised to deliver value for money (see “Partnership for Wine Science Center”). While the timeline has extended by a few months since the project was initially proposed, with completion slated for early 2015 rather than this fall as indicated in early reports, the budget is more than $3 million short of the original estimate of $26.2 million.

“We were working hard to deliver a project that was in the realm of the money that we could raise,” Gary Ballew, executive director of the Wine Science Center Development Authority, told Wines & Vines.

That work led to a reduction in the building’s size from an initial projection of 45,000 square feet to less than 40,000 square feet once actual programming needs were determined. Then the design-build process kicked in, allowing a more integrated approach to the planning and construction process that trimmed another $1.7 million off project costs while delivering a two-level facility with a welcoming entrance, views and significant use of natural light.

“What you’re seeing is better use of space,” Ballew said. “It didn’t affect what the building could accomplish or how well it would last...(but) you get more for the money you put into it because you have the designer and the builder looking at it.”

When complete, the center will gather WSU’s viticulture and enology work from the state’s campuses in Prosser and Pullman under one roof.

Support for the center has been keen in an industry whose geographical heart is in the mid-Columbia region, rather than a 2.5-hour drive east at Pullman, Wash., a college town nestled in the Palouse a stone’s throw from Idaho.

With more than 200,000 tons of wine grapes harvested in 2013, and approximately 689 wineries (according to Wines Vines Analytics), the state’s growth has benefitted from the support researchers at WSU and other schools provide.

The wine industry’s support of the project independent of—but not without—government funding is significant as austerity measures continue to bite elsewhere in the industry. The issue has been a chronic challenge since the financial crisis of 2008 (see “Northwest Wine Industry Funds Research”), but better economic times haven’t softened its bite.

Southern Oregon growers, for example, are grappling with the potential loss of extension services in Jackson County, Ore., thanks to local government budget cutbacks. Alternatives for funding the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center’s work in the Rogue Valley are under consideration, with the issue being put to the question in county elections this May.

Oregon State University, which has had to juggle funding for the Oregon Wine Research Institute (itself a beneficiary of growers’ financial support), recently appointed a full-time viticulture specialist to the center but that position is in jeopardy if county funding dries up.

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