By Derek Spellman
NEOSHO, Mo. — A 2,500-gallon aquarium where visitors can observe several species of fish.
Classrooms where visitors can get interactive work on, for example, fish dissections and water quality experiments.
A walk-out patio area overlooking a pond of fish.
All are features in store for the new, 9,800-square-foot visitors center under construction at the Neosho National Fish Hatchery.
David Hendrix, the hatchery manager, said the project remains on budget and on schedule.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service broke ground for the center in July 2009. Hendrix said work on the actual building should be complete by July, while the installation of exhibits is expected to be complete in August. A formal dedication ceremony is likely to take place in October.
“We’ve got a vision, and that vision is finally being realized,” Hendrix said.
Construction crews have installed an onion dome atop the structure.
“That was a wonderful moment,” Hendrix said of the dome, which is designed to invoke “a lot of the flavoring” from an old hatchery building that was torn down years ago. The new building is modeled after that old Victorian structure.
Hendrix said the building frame is up and enclosed, although it awaits siding.
Interior features in the building will include a pair of 300- to 500-gallon aquariums to go along with the 2,500-gallon aquarium. Hendrix said those aquariums will house fish that include the endangered pallid sturgeon, rainbow trout, catfish and paddlefish
Some area of the center will have a “cave-like” feel to highlight the importance of cave fish, he said. Other exhibits will focus on the different phases of the hatchery’s work.
“It’s a visitors center and a work center, too,” said Harry Rogers, a member of the nonprofit Friends of the Neosho National Fish Hatchery, referring to the center’s educational aspects.
The project stalled after the Fish and Wildlife Service three times solicited bids for a visitors center, and each time the bids exceeded the original $2.8 million budget. In some cases, bids exceeded the budget by more than $1 million.
Last year, federal officials said they would allocate $1.7 million in additional funds for the project, bringing the total budget to $4.5 million. Crossland Construction Co. was awarded the contract to build the center.
Features of the center also will include a book and souvenir shop, an exhibit hall with displays on the history of the hatchery, a display of artifacts, a training room with a wet lab, and video-viewing equipment. Office space is planned for the second floor. A new parking lot will be built in the northwest corner of the property, along with a wetlands.
The Neosho National Fish Hatchery draws about 45,000 visitors annually. Officials say that number is expected to go to more than 100,000 once the new visitors center is built.
By Derek Spellman
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