BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The long-promised Los Alamos National Laboratory 2021 Campus Master Plan (CMP) reveals plans for an extensive transformation of the Lab’s property from the creation of a new entranceway to the creation of more than 4 million gross square feet of buildings over the next 30 years and the demolition of about a million square feet of obsolete or excess facilities.
While there are no major surprises in the new CMP as published, it should be remembered that it is a highly watered-down and vetted version drawn from the version given to DOE/NNSA in September 2021. The Los Alamos Reporter obtained an electronic copy of the document August 11 that was obtained by others from DOE/NNSA through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request,
The main focus of the plan is to replace what LANL calls “end-of-life” structures with modern offices as well as laboratory and experimental facilities mostly in the Core Area at TA-03, in the Pajarito Corridor East and West, at the National Energetic & Engineering Weapons Campus (NEEWC), the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center (LANSCE) and the remaining area called the Balance of Site. The CMP also announces improvements to utility systems, the sustainability program and transportation projects as well as public/private development potential at the Los Alamos Research Park.
The Reporter chatted on Friday with Kelly Beierschmitt, LANL’s deputy director for operations about the CMP. He said this CMP is the most comprehensive plan LANL has ever had. The plan is maintained and updated on a massive GIS system and contains not only the existing and planned buildings and infrastructure but also any archeological sites or sensitive habitat areas, which are all considered in the planning process.
“It’s a living document and as time goes by things will change. When we met with the Los Alamos County Council and we had completed our initial plan, we never would have believed, for example, that we would be implementing telework to the degree that we are. Some of that original planning got changed. For example we now have leases in Santa Fe that we never dreamed of and we have expanded some of our leases in Los Alamos. All those kinds of operational changes result in changes to the CMP you’re seeing today,” Beierschmitt said. “All those changes are made near real time in the data bases where we maintain the CMP but it’s only on this periodic basis that we extract the paper copy that we send to DOE/NNSA and make available for distribution”.
He said the goal of the CMP is to develop a world-class institution.
“We stand on the shoulders of the people that built this place the first time. (LANL director) Thom (Mason) and I want to leave the world class institution that was built for us to the next generation. There’s probably no greater legacy if you’re in my business than to do that. The people and the facilities are what make national laboratories great and we’re investing in both and we think that’s our job – that’s our legacy,” Beierschmitt said.
The CMP indicates that the Core Area, which is the most familiar to the public, will remain the Lab’s administrative center. Maintenance craft, shipping and receiving as well as the badge office will be eventually relocated outside that area freeing land for new construction and reducing the current congestion. New roadways and parking will be constructed in that area as well as a pedestrian circulation network with integrated green spaces. These and other changes will occur in the near-term (within the next 10 years), midterm (10-20 years) and long-term (beyond 20 years), Beierschmitt said.
“The timeframe for the big changes to the Campus Core Area is going to be the end of the near-term or early midterm. Some of it you will see in the early term because of our transportation strategy. The proposed Transit Center and things like that you will see sooner whereas taking down the Maintenance Building will be out further,” he said.
Asked about the off-site Health Resource Laboratory building located next to Los Alamos Medical Center, Beierschmitt said the HRL is his favorite facility.
“Every time I have a guest or visitors from Washington, DC, I like to take them into the bowels of that facility to explain to them why infrastructure funding is so important. It’s our poster child for old facilities that we need to get out of. We almost got out of it three years ago and then we had a major crunch with some of our Lab spaces and had to repopulate portions of it,” he said.
When COVID hit, Beierschmitt said the HRL was the only space he could set up a testing lab for testing employees.
“Our plan is to get out of there as soon as possible. We have one lease in Los Alamos that’s already executed and I have opportunities in a couple of other spaces to relocate those staff back out of HRL. I would like to take HRL down and currently there’s been some debate in the campus master planning process of whether the Omega Bridge replacement will be located further up in Los Alamos,” he said. “This has been in our discussions with the County – that’s got to be a full partnering item.”
Beierschmitt said another option is to place the new Omega Bridge landing where the HRL is now and keep the old bridge as a greenway. Since the bridge replacement has been pushed out to 2030, that planning continues to be very important to both LANL and the County but no decisions have been made yet, he said, and several options are being considered. We have several options that are being considered. The CMP indicates that a modern, two-lane roundabout is envisioned “to enable efficient, low-speed traffic flow, minimize congestion, and ensure capacity for emergency ingress and egress during a variety of weather, climate, disaster, and security scenarios”.
The Lab is also working on parking/commuting alternatives to handle the impact of “mission growth” of the Pajarito Corridor in a sustainable. Traffic analysis is planned as well as commuter incentive programs that encourage carpooling, use of mass transit, remote parking, bicycling and walking. The Lab is also looking at a larger transit station that includes more bus routes as well as going to an all-electric fleet with multiple charging-station locations.
The CMP notes that LANL commuting issues have their own complexities and will require “coordinated strategies with onsite issues”. Currently only 42 percent of LANL employees live in Los Alamos or White Rock, with 26 percent in Santa Fe, 18 percent in Espanola, 7 percent in the Albuquerque and 2 percent in Taos. Although the number of employees will increase, LANL expects that the residence distribution percentages will remain pretty close to what they are now.
The CMP also discusses the Los Alamos Research Park, a 44-acre tract on West Jemez Road leased by DOE through 2054 to the Los Alamos Commerce & Development Corporation. Under the terms of the lease, LACDC prepared a master development plan for the Park which involves construction of five buildings totaling 450,000 square feet, however to date only one 83,000 square foot building has been constructed.
The Reporter asked Beierschmitt about plans at the Plutonium Facility (PF4) in light of the planned increase in plutonium pit production. He noted that certain details would not be shared broadly in the paper copies of the CMP that are distributed because of sensitivities and classifications.
“We’re not going to be replacing PF4 or building a great big facility next to PF4 but there is a lot of work going on there such as replacing gloveboxes and modernizing equipment. There are similar activities going on inside the Sigma Facility but in terms of site planning the work going on there is not a part of rebuilding the facility or adding a big blister onto the facilities,” Beierschmitt said. “Sigma is a facility that’s getting long in the tooth. We need to make investments inside Sigma to keep it mission ready and productive for our programs but eventually there are many of those facilities in the mid- to long-term that we’d like to capitalize.”
He said the energy efficiency of some of the older facilities is pretty weak.
“We have a team that works for us out there that’s primary job is site sustainability. With the old buildings that are running on steam etc. we can’t meet our 2050 goal to be carbon-free without either significant upgrades or replacing some of those aging facilities,” Beierschmitt said.
Asked about the status of the Chemistry Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Beiershmitt said the project is well underway with big sub-elements of it already completed. That includes the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB) which contains nearly 20,000 square feet of radiological laboratory space; a centralized utility building for all CMRR facilities; office space for 350 cleared and uncleared personnel; a facility incident command center and facility operations center.
“If you go into the CMR today, there are wings that are cold and dark meaning that they have been vacated, they’re closed down. We maintain light and heat to keep things from freezing and to keep our inspections underway. We’ve got most of those wings cleaned up and ready for a decommissioning and demolition program,” Beierschmitt said. “There’s one wing we operate a few things in – one high-bay facility that has not yet relocated – but we’re getting very close to finalizing the last session of mission work there at CMR.”
As for the future of the CMR area, he said it is great real estate. He noted that the CMR is complex given its previous operations and that its decommissioning and demolition is not a project that will be cheap, but will have to be done at the highest level with specific funding.
In response to national goals and policies and DOE directives pertaining to climate change, LANL is developing a broad approach to sustainability. Key initiatives are already being addressed across the Lab and are outlined in the CMP. They include a photovoltaic array slated to come online in 2023/2024 that will provide 10MV of solar energy to the campus. The Lab is also working to capture .5 trillion BTUs of waste heat a year from the steam plant which will heat the TA-03 area.
The CMP notes Lab plans to continue efforts to evaluate existing buildings, implement water and energy-savings measures, install utility meters and certify buildings as Sustainable Federal Buildings, which is challenging because of their and the impact to occupants and ongoing work in those facilities. It is hoped that a renewed focus on sustainable design, new processes and policies will mean that new facilities are sustainably built.
Los Alamos County has been anxious for the release of a LANL Campus Master Plan, which was expected to be issued by December 2020. County staff meets with LANL officials on a monthly basis and it is expected that there will be much to discuss as the projects outlined in the CMP advance during the next 30 years. As of last week, County Councilors had not yet received the CMP.