Boise’s popular water education center is getting a makeover.
The City of Boise’s WaterShed, an interactive museum focused on clean water and sustainability, will be transformed into a water and climate science center. On Tuesday, Boise City Council gave the thumbs up to authorize a remodel of the exhibit hall, building and programming at the site to attract a broader range of visitors and add more interactive exhibits focused on climate change and sustainability.
This is part of Boise’s slate of climate goals, which include an aggressive plan to make the City of Boise carbon neutral by 2050. City spokesman Colin Hickman told city council the goal of the revamped center is to bring local environmental issues and the city’s plans to address climate change home to Boiseans.
“We see this as an unbelievable opportunity,” “Hickman said. “…We wrestle a lot with climate change. It can often feel very ethereal and very far away so this presents an unbelievable opportunity to make that real and very tangible so any of our audiences can come and touch and feel and wrestle with these topics. It takes the work that the city does and makes it real and it’s not us talking at folks, it’s a conversation.”
The cost for the project will be paid for by the city’s Public Works fund, which is paid for with user fees from water renewal customers, and split between fiscal year 2022 and fiscal year 2023. In the first year, the city will spend $1.75 million to hire an exhibit design firm and complete the visioning and plans for the revamped museum. The city will spend $3.38 million in the second year to complete the remodel.
The opening is planned for the winter of 2023.
What is the WaterShed?
It’s not very often people flock to a wastewater renewal plant.
In the early 2000s, Boise’s Public Works Department started envisioning a way to educate the public about the importance of clean water and demystify the city’s water renewal operations. The effort got off the ground in 2005 when a former Public Works Commissioner and others formed a nonprofit to raise funds for the project and the city opted to pitch in $2 million to construct the WaterShed building on the site of the West Boise Water Renewal facility.
It opened in 2008 and since then has drawn up to 27,000 visitors per year to West Boise. The exhibits include a virtual reality sandbox where visitors can shape their own watershed, an interactive 3D painting of the city’s expansive geothermal system and follow the life of a raindrop through the water cycle. Visitors can also play in a simulated Boise River surrounding the museum known as the River Campus where children can splash in the water, build their own small dams and run through tunnels made of sewer pipes.
The WaterShed hosts hundreds of students from elementary school all the way to college every year for visits to the museum and tours of the water renewal facility next door.
A new chapter
The next step of the remodel will be to put out a request for proposals to find a firm to help with the design and create new exhibits.
Part of this planning process will include community engagement over the next year to get feedback from families who frequent the museum and professionals specializing in climate science and education to help develop the future of the center.
Cindy Busche, the WaterShed’s education manager, said the new exhibits will focus on a variety of water issues, aiming to connect them all back to issues impacting the Treasure Valley and Boise’s Climate Action Roadmap. A study conducted a few years ago on climate change impacts to Boise found six of the eight areas climate change will impact Boise the most have to do with water.
She said the themes they’ve opted to focus on include “One Water” to explain that all of the water on Earth now will continue to move throughout the earth in multiple forms for millions of years, Boise’s own watershed, the community’s connection to the environment and the City of Boise’s innovations on climate change.
“With new exhibits, we could make improvements to the space to improve visitor flow,” Busche told city council. “(It could have) a widened entryway, a space for orienting our visitors and the flow going around the exhibit hall could include young learner stations and or an enhanced theatre system.”
An enthusiastic thumbs up
City Council members were excited about the proposal.
City Council Member Luci Willits said she was excited that the center was in her West Boise district and looked forward to visiting soon as well as when the renovation is complete. City Council Member Patrick Bageant also praised the project and the plans to focus even more on climate science in the future.
“I love the WaterShed and I know so many people whose kids love it,” he said. “It always cracks me up because if these kids love it and I love it, what does it say about me? But that’s a different thing.”
City Council Member Lisa Sanchez said she hoped the project would incorporate the perspectives and thoughts from the Boise Valley People, the indigenous people who lived in Boise before European settlers displaced them.
“I would like to see the original inhabitants of the Boise Valley reflected in the work that we do, especially as it comes to open space, the water, the land,” Sanchez said. “I think this would be an ideal opportunity to reflect that.”