If fundraising for the United Way amid scandals wasn't a challenge for Lucy S. Beauchamp, how about raising more than $100 million for an unbuilt science center?

Beauchamp is leaving as chief of the United Way of Prince William County to head up fundraising for the Belmont Bay Science Center, a $120 million museum planned for just north of the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

"I am so excited about it. I think it is going to be one of the things that defines Prince William,'' said Beauchamp, who also is chairman of the Prince William School Board.

While the estimated cost of the project has risen from $105 million and the timeline has slipped from 2007 to 2008, Beauchamp said she is optimistic that the center will eventually draw more than 750,000 visitors annually. In comparison, the Manassas Battlefield National Park draws about 1 million visitors each year.

The Belmont Bay Science Center will be a branch of the state's Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond. Supporters say there is no hands-on science center between Richmond and Baltimore.

"This center is going to be so valuable for this community and the whole Northern Virginia region," Beauchamp said.

But first it will have to be built.

The current $120 million budget includes a $15 million operational endowment, said Jack Parry, the center's executive director. To date, the project has raised $22 million in cash and other considerations, including lease agreements; $5 million in state bond commitments; and a $2 million private gift, he said. Prince William County gave the center $200,000 in July to help kick off the capital campaign.

Parry said Beauchamp would be chief fundraiser for the foundation, which was formed a year ago to raise money for the project. She starts her new position Monday.

Parry and Beauchamp said the center will focus on biodiversity and will partner with the nearby wildlife refuge as well as George Mason University. The center will also help support science education in schools.

Beauchamp said the facility would be marketed not as a Prince William center but as a regional resource.

"We need this," she said. "Look at our community, with the millions of people here."

Parry said there is a huge difference between a static museum such as the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and a hands-on science center.

"At the Smithsonian, they have displays that you go up to and read and look," Parry said. "A science center doesn't focus on artifacts but gets you involved in the doing of science."

Parry said he envisions using films and computers to interact with visitors and allow them to choose a path of discovery instead of walking from room to room to view displays.

He said there are excellent science centers in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston and other cities, but none in Northern Virginia or the Washington area.

County officials say the science center and the National Museum of the Marine Corps under construction in Quantico will help draw visitors to the county and revitalize the Route 1 corridor.

Beauchamp decided to leave her United Way job after the United Way of the National Capital Area announced plans to consolidate local offices, including the one in Manassas, where Beauchamp worked. Since then, the United Way has indicated that it might revisit that decision.

"I think it is going to be one of the things that defines Prince William,'' Lucy S. Beauchamp said of the center.