Fermilab wants to restore 'sense of grandeur' with new building

As Fermilab celebrates turning 50 in 2017, "It is time to renew and rejuvenate," CEO Tim Meyer says.

He and other Fermilab officials were thrilled to learn the federal government, which owns the Batavia particle-physics laboratory, agrees.

The Department of Energy last week gave the laboratory permission to design plans for a new building, the Integrated Engineering Research building. The news was announced to workers Tuesday.

The new building would bring engineers and technicians working on different experiments in to a central campus. It's envisioned as a 55,000-square-foot building, connected by an elevated 30,000-square-foot walkway dubbed "Collision Hall" to Wilson Hall, the laboratory's headquarters. There could also be a hostel or guesthouse, parking relocation, razing of some buildings, and development of a quad-like gathering space where the front visitor parking is now located.

Next up is getting design approval for the research building. Then the cost must be approved. Then a construction plan would need to be approved. Meyer says it could be about six years to get approvals and finish the project, roughly estimated at $85 million.

Overall plan

The new research building isn't the only project Fermilab is proposing, just the highest priority.

In 2013, Fermilab finished a campus master plan, outlining what officials thought should happen to facilities during the next 20 years.

One of the big points was that many of the current buildings are not suitable for today's and future experiments. For example, it needs buildings with higher bays for large equipment. Wilson Hall is already undergoing $9 million worth of renovations, and plumbing and electrical work is planned throughout the laboratory.

Another was that scientists, support staff, engineers and technicians facilities are too spread out on the 6,800-acre site. They tend to be located where the facilities are for specific experiments. It would be better intellectually if they could be grouped in three clusters, the study said. Engineers, scientists and technicians working on various experiments could share knowledge easily, sometimes informally, by working closer to each other.

It would also help environmentally to reduce the amount of car-driving needed to get around, it said. Razing obsolete buildings would create more open space that could be returned to prairie.

And thirdly, a lot of Fermilab's buildings are utilitarian at best. Certainly not very good-looking, or designed with workers' and visitors' comfort and needs in mind, the study says.

They contrast to the vision director Robert Wilson had when he designed the laboratory. Wilson, who designed Wilson Hall and created some of the sculptures for the laboratory, wanted a "utopian" place for scientists from around the world, where the architecture and surroundings would reflect the "magnificence" of their discoveries, according to the report.

Wilson even thought about aesthetics when designing some of the electrical towers; they resemble the Greek letter "pi."

Meyer said the campus should be something taxpayers are proud to look at. "There should be a sense of grandeur," he said. "We're sort of reinterpreting and updating that."

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