The Department of Energy has begun work toward a proposed 100,000 square feet of new laboratory and office space at the heart of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory campus in Richland.
It has issued a draft environmental assessment on the proposal, which is open for public comment through June 30.
PNNL spokesman Greg Koller said some of the lab's facilities are decades old, and research needs are different now.
"We need modern capabilities to do work," Koller said.
One of those needs is more "wet chemistry" laboratory space, said DOE spokesman Larry Moore, referring to chemistry with liquids. Another is space for delicate scientific equipment, such as the "quiet wing" added to the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory on the PNNL campus in 2011 for new research microscopes that must be kept still to allow scientists to look at individual atoms.
About three years ago, PNNL added 345,000 square feet of space, including the Physical Sciences Facility. But much of that was to replace space lost at Hanford as environmental cleanup progressed there.
The proposed new capacity would be consistent with the PNNL campus master plan adopted last year, which calls for modernizing facilities and infrastructure, as needed, and consolidating operations on the core PNNL campus when new facilities are added, Koller said. Advantages include increasing staff collaboration.
The proposed development would be on federal land to the south of Horn Rapids Road and north of Battelle Boulevard. It could include new buildings or annexes to existing buildings.
After PNNL reduced staff by 428 positions last fiscal year, leaving it with about 4,500 workers, it vacated some buildings on the fringe of its campus, Koller said. But the new construction would add capacity, not replace facilities.
A specific design, location and schedule for new construction has not been developed.
The draft environmental assessment, an initial step, found no historic properties or critical habitats that would be affected by construction.
The tentative plans for new facilities at PNNL come as federal budgets are tight, but DOE is looking at using annual budget money, self-investing and savings over time to cover costs, Moore said.
"These are tough times," he said. "But you have to invest to remain relevant."
In an unrelated project, $1 million is planned to be spent to modify two buildings on the PNNL campus -- the Engineering Development Laboratory and the Life Sciences Laboratory II. Work includes replacing existing steam lines and installing new equipment, including energy-efficient gas-fired boilers to produce hot water for heating.
The draft environmental assessment is posted at pnso.oro.doe.gov under "Documents". To comment, email email@example.com or mail Kimberly Williams, PNNL South Federal Campus EA, P.O. Box 350, MS K9-42, Richland, WA 99352.
-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @HanfordNews