Science Complex gets some PEP

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By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos National Laboratory took another step down the road toward finding a suitable home for a substantial portion of its science and engineering workforce.

The laboratory announced selection of Pacific Equity Partners Los Alamos Science Complex LLC (PEP) a development partnership, to carry the project forward into the next phase.

“They’ll come back and we’ll develop a contract and a 50 percent design of what it will look like,” said Terry Wallace, principal associate director for Science, Technology and Engineering. “That will allow us to make a final business case to the National Nuclear Security Administration and they will say yea or nay.”

The project, which has been estimated in the $250-400 million range, is an attempt to work around funding hurdles for providing workspace for 1,400 or so scientists and engineers, many of whom make do with decrepit or makeshift labs and office space.

Unlike the weapons program, which is paid for by the Department of Energy and its nuclear weapons agency, NNSA, there is no single sponsor for a growing portion of LANL’s work that involves multiple customers.

With nuclear weapons budgets declining, it has become harder to find a patron for new buildings that will be used by many different kinds of projects and programs. At the same time, this is the most promising area for the future, according to the current roadmap.

Hence, the effort to find third party funding for the project, which is where PEP will come in, as the private developer and financial backer of the project. The company will assume the financial risk, in exchange for a series of extendable long-term leases.

But, since the government only appropriates funds from year to year, the partnership must accept the risk that LANL can opt out at any point with a one-year notice.

That would leave the company holding a very expensive and very isolated property, two large buildings and a parking structure, about a half-mile south of the main administrative area at the lab. If the contract should be cancelled, the lab has indicated, it would be accessible to the public from the Ski Hill Bypass Road.

Wallace said there were seven responders to the request for proposal and five of them were strong. PEP’s proposal scored highest in an elaborate scoring system under a review that involved additional expertise brought in from the lab’s partners organizations.  He said the winning proposal was especially strong in the area of cost and flexibility.

An elevated floor system will enable floor plans to change easily as new needs and new missions require.

The proposed facility will achieve a very high (Gold or Platinum) certification under the green building rating system, Leadership for Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). Proposed green features include providing 50 percent of the energy for the buildings through wind and solar systems. A water-harvesting component is expected to save 50 percent of the water and there will be no storm water runoff.

The ready response from outside the laboratory to gamble on the lab’s future should be taken as a strong vote of confidence, Wallace said.

“It’s easy to become preoccupied with our own nattering uncertainty,” he said, “But J.P. Morgan and Scully Capital, who are floating the bond – they’re making a bet that the government will have to have innovation and technology to solve the nation’s problems.”

Under the rules of third party financing, after approval by NNSA, the plan would go to the office of Management and Budget for a final decision. Congress would be by-passed, except that the Armed Services Committee has 60-days to review projects proposed for construction on an NNSA site.

Wallace said he was hopeful that there could be a green light by early November. The plan calls for groundbreaking in 2009, completion in 2010 and occupancy in 2011.