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Unforeseen Financial Challenge for Lewis and Clark Center - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Unforeseen Financial Challenge for Lewis and Clark Center

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A project a decade in the making will soon honor the lives of two prominent Albemarle County pioneers.

The Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center could be finished within the next month, but there are still some unexpected challenges before it can officially open its doors.

The center has raised a now estimated $1.8 million through state funds, grants and private donors. But it may have to raise several thousand more before it can open its new home in Darden Towe Park because of an unforeseen $33,000 hookup fee for water.

The executive director of the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center, Alexandria Searls, says she had hoped for a discounted rate or a payment plan since the center is a nonprofit and she doesn't think they should pay as much as for-profit developers. She said none of the experts who went over their construction budget had foreseen this expense.

However Gary O'Connell, the executive director of the Albemarle County Service Authority, said this is a common charge. He said someone has to pay and it shouldn't be other developers or individual customers.

The hookup fee is what O'Connell referred to as "growth paying for growth." He says new infrastructure means new water lines and sewer hookups must be in place, among other things. He said big developments - like The Shops at Stonefield - would have a larger hookup fee than a residential home. But anything that's hooked to public water pays for a connection fee, whether it's a church, city government building, apartment complexes or buildings for nonprofits. "That's part of the cost of development," he said.

So far the service authority has given the center a temporary water hookup for watering of plants. In the meantime, it seems the center will have to raise more money.

Searls said she hopes in the future, regulations could change to allow libraries, schools and nonprofits to get a break since their work positively impacts the community and they don't have as big of budgets as major for-profits.

Once the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center is completed it will have exhibits, a library, a kitchen for "native plant cooking classes," and an event space for meetings. It will also serve as the starting point for outdoor adventure programs.

"When the center opens, families and visitors will be able to come and learn more about local history, do hands-on activities. We really teach the skills of exploration," Searls said.

Meriwether Lewis was born in Ivy and the Clark family homestead was right near the center. Searls says it's a local story that's often neglected, and now she wants to talk more about the time the two had to Charlottesville and Albemarle.

"The local history of Lewis and Clark was a story that really wasn't told. We have Monticello telling Jefferson's story, we have Montpellier and Ashlawn, but we didn't have the story of our explorers," she said.

The new building is designed to fit into the landscape with a green roof and a structure that juts out of the hillside facing the Rivanna River.

"When you're looking at it from a distance it looks like it's going into the horizon," Searls said.

The building has modern features, but is also created to look like an old keel boat that Lewis and Clark used, with two poles at the top of the building serving as the mast.

The center could be open within the next month for class tours. There's a grand opening expected in the spring, at which time the center would be open during more regular hours.

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