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Shake-up in Berkeley Lab Satellite Campus Plan

The decision to put a second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley Lab at the Richmond Field Station, announced with fanfare last year, has changed. A new campus is still planned in Richmond but with UC Berkeley joining as the lead partner.

A slide shows the proposed Richmond Bay Campus (upper left) to be shared by UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (lower right), presented at a community meeting by the campus and the lab in Richmond, June 20, 2013
A slide shows the proposed Richmond Bay Campus (upper left) to be shared by UC Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (lower right), presented at a community meeting by the campus and the lab in Richmond, June 20, 2013
Published June 21, 2013, 1:19 a.m., updated 11:22 a.m.

Remember the East Bay sturm und drang of 2011 when many local communities – including Berkeley and Albany – anxiously vied to be home to the new multi-million-dollar satellite campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory?

And that when the lab announced the choice in January of last year,  Richmond was the lucky winner? The Berkeley lab's new campus – expected to be a major economic engine locally and a major science research hub globally – would be built at the university-owned Richmond Field Station.

It turns out that things have changed a bit since then.

A monkey wrench has been thrown into the lab's expansion by the federal budget clampdown known as "sequestration," and UC Berkeley has not only joined the planned new campus but is expected to become the larger partner, according to UC and lab officials.

It's possible that the first buildings of the new Richmond Bay Campus will be Cal facilities instead of Lawrence Berkeley lab structures, lab and Cal officials have told Patch.

The change in plans is not new. UC and lab officials have been collaborating for months on sharing the new campus, though many members of the public appear not to have been aware of the shift in leadership toward the Berkeley campus.

The lab's funding problem was publicly highlighted Thursday night when campus and lab officials jointly hosted a community meeting attended by more than 100 people at Richmond Memorial Auditorium.

"We're often asked if the sequester and tight federal budget process has an effect on this project," Associate Laboratory Director Glenn Kubiak told the gathering. "And of course, I have to be honest, it has had an effect."
 
Kubiak said that the budget axed new building projects for fiscal 2014, which extends through Sept. 30 next year. Not spared by the federal axe are projects funded by the Department of Energy, which funds the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, he said.

The lab, which has outgrown its buildings on the hillside east of the main UC Berkeley campus and has 25 percent of its researchers scattered in various sites around the East Bay, had planned to begin work on the new consolidated satellite campus in Richmond in fiscal 2014, Kubiak said.

Kubiak said the lab's project nevertheless has broad federal support. "We expect this delay to be a temporary situation," he said.

He said the lab and the campus are "looking at other ways" of funding the first phase of the planned development, which calls for three main buildings on 16 acres of what is ultimately expected to be a large 108-acre complex for 10,000 researchers and staff. Its planners say the new campus will be devoted to three main research themes: carbon-neutral energy, a reduced environmental footprint and improved human health.

And although the new campus is intended to rely on collaboration among the researchers from the two institutions, they will retain their own funding sources and institutional identities. The first building would have been lab-funded with Department of Energy funds, while the second was expected to paid for with UC funds, Kubiak told Patch.

The price tag for the three buildings in Phase 1 is estimated to be in the neighborhood of $435 million, with about $35 million of that figure devoted to preparatory infrastructure, he said.

Julie Sinai, the campus Director of Local Government and Community Relations,  said UC Berkeley also lacks enough space to house its programs and people, and that the campus and lab have been working together for the past 18 months to plan shared use and collaboration at the Richmond Bay Campus. She acknowledged that many members of the community retain the now out-dated belief that it's solely or chiefly a satellite of the Berkeley lab.

In fact, she and Kubiak said, of the 5.4 million square feet of space tentatively planned for future development at the site, the lab would control far less than half, about 2 million, leaving about 3.4 million for Cal.

Kubiak said of his UC Berkeley partners, "Their enthusiasm has grown over the past 18 months moving into a leadership position."

Final plans for the new campus have not been set. The university is preparing a Long Range Development Plan for the Richmond Bay Campus and both partners are preparing environmental impact studies that will be subject to public review and input before final approvals.

UC Regents are expected to vote on approving the plans in March of next year, said Barbara Maloney of the Berkeley Design Group, a consulting firm that is helping plan the physical development of the site.

Maloney, who gave a slide presentation at the Thursday night meeting, was asked by an audience member how long it will take to complete the project. She said the anticipated opening date for the first buildings had been 2017 but that the federal funding freeze for the 2014 fiscal year could mean a delay.

She said there are so many unknown variables and incomplete plans for the entire 108-acre project that it's impossible to venture a guess on when the campus would be fully built. Nevertheless, she noted, campuses generally take about 40 years to build out.

She also emphasized the plan's protections for natural resources at the site and goals of providing access other than by car. She said the site is a 10-minute bike ride from the del Norte BART station and that a shuttle bus service also is likely to be established. Area bike paths also will be enhanced, she said.

In response to a question about the impact on jobs and the local economy, topics that have been of high interest in previous community meetings on the development, she said Thursday night's meeting was intended to focus on the physical plan, and that there will be other opportunities to address public concerns about community impacts.

More information about the project and planning process can be found on the Richmond Bay Campus website.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported the primary source of funding for the Berkeley Lab. It has been corrected.
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