Langley — After several years of planning and preparing, dirt will finally be turned in August as the Grand River Dam Authority moves forward with construction of the 16,000 square foot GRDA Ecosystems and Education Center. Official groundbreaking ceremonies are scheduled for Friday, August 22, at 10 AM.

At its August 8 meeting, the GRDA Board of Directors approved the construction contract on the $4.8 million structure, finally setting into motion a project the lake area has anticipated since 2000.

That was the year the idea for a visitor center adjacent to historic Pensacola Dam really began to take shape. GRDA donated the property and a visitor center committee, — comprised of lake area stakeholders — was organized in 2001 in part to secure funding for the project. That group — Visitors Center, Inc. — has engaged in several fund raising activities in coordination with the Grand Gateway Economic Development Association and will contribute $300,000.00 toward construction of the center.

Designed to be the home of GRDA Ecosystems Management offices, along with a state-of-the-art water research lab, the new building will also contain offices for the Grand Lake Area Chamber of Commerce (GLACC), a community auditorium and historical exhibits. The GRDA Board first approved the preliminary construction plans last March. Crossland Construction Company, Inc. was awarded the bid in August, following a competitive bidding process.

 “We expect this building to become the face of GRDA on its lakes,” said GRDA Community Relations Director Holly Moore. Exhibits at the facility will highlight the history and geography of the Grand River, while the adjacent GRDA offices will be a “one-stop shopping” destination for obtaining lake-related permits. Meanwhile the new water lab, will be “the foundation” for GRDA’s water management efforts in the future said GRDA Ecosystems Management Director Dr. Darrell Townsend.

 “Meeting our obligation requirements for managing the waters of the Grand River is a priority for us, and this lab will go a long way in helping us do that,” said Townsend, adding that the University of Oklahoma, which has been conducting ongoing studies of the waters of Tar Creek has expressed an interest in being a cooperating partner in the water lab. “We expect this water lab to be a very important asset for ecosystems management and resource protection in Northeast Oklahoma,” said Townsend.

According to GRDA Chief Executive Officer Kevin Easley, the lab should also help GRDA’s case in regards to mitigation expenses associated with relicensing its hydro projects. “The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues our hydro project licenses,” he said, “and they like the idea of GRDA having its own water lab. We feel the addition of the lab, and really this entire GRDA lake operations facility, will help us keep our mitigation costs lower. In the long run, that will save money for all GRDA customers.”

Separate from the GRDA office space, the Center’s other spaces will provide opportunities for the public to learn about the Grand River system, its history, its lakes and their impact on the region. Free tours of GRDA’s historic Pensacola Dam (which now begin at the current Lake Patrol Headquarters) will originate at the new center. GLACC’s offices will provide information on the region while the community auditorium will be available for a variety of events.

 “GRDA holds several public meetings each year to gather input or pass along information about various lake related issues,” said Moore. “The new auditorium really gives us a permanent location to hold many of these meetings, but we also expect it to be an asset for area schools, civic groups and other organizations.”

According to Visitors Center, Inc. Chairman Dr. Bruce Howell, the historical exhibits planned for the building are just the beginning of the educational benefits the building can provide.

 “An affiliate of Visitors Center, Inc., the Grand Lake Historical Society, will coordinate educational activities slated to be incorporated in the Center,” said Howell. “The focus will be upon developing an awareness of the history, geography, ecology, and archeology relevant to the four counties (Craig, Delaware, Mayes, and Ottawa) surrounding Grand and Hudson lakes.”

Beck Design, the Oklahoma-based firm that designed the Oklahoma Historical Museum, was chosen, through the bid process, as the architectural firm for the project. During that March GRDA Board meeting, Don Beck presented the board with the project floor plans.

 “You have a great site; the views are phenomenal,” said Beck, adding that the new building would have an “inside/outside feeling” incorporated into its green design. That design will also include plenty of open views of Grand Lake as it sits on property dubbed as the “home of the million dollar view” in 2000 when the building was first envisioned.

Once completed, GRDA would recoup some of its construction costs through its lease agreement with the GLACC as well as special event rentals for the auditorium. The building is scheduled for completion in August 2009.