Community celebrates K-25 historic preservation agreement

K-25 Building

The mile-long, U-shaped K-25 Building is pictured above. The North Tower, which historic preservationists had lobbied to save for years, is in the center background. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)

An agreement officially announced Friday morning clears the way for the historic K-25 North Tower to be demolished, calls for a replica equipment building and viewing tower, proposes a history center at a nearby city-owned fire station, and provides a $500,000 grant for the run-down Alexander Inn.

The agreement wraps up a decade of discussion over how to commemorate the historic contributions of K-25, which was built during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, a federal program to make the world’s first atomic bombs.

Historic preservationists lobbied for years to save the North Tower, but concerns over safety, the deteriorated condition of the building, and cost appear to have made that impractical. Much of the rest of the K-25 Building has already been torn down.

Those who signed the agreement include the U.S. Department of Energy, the State Office of Historic Preservation, the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, the City of Oak Ridge, and the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance.

A few dozen representatives of federal, state, and local historic preservation groups celebrated the its signing during a Friday morning ceremony at the former K-25 site, now part of the East Tennessee Technology Park.

Sue Cange, DOE’s deputy manager of Environmental Management in Oak Ridge, said the agreement was produced by many people who feel passionately about the need to preserve the history of the important work performed at the site.

“I believe this is a huge accomplishment,” Cange said. “After these buildings are gone, and after we are gone, our grandchildren will know that the men and women who worked here made one of the greatest achievements in American history.”

It’s been estimated that the plan could cost $17.5 million to carry out. Cange said implementation of the initiatives included in the preservation plan will begin this fall and could take five to seven years to carry out.

Under the terms of the agreement, DOE will undertake three broad initiatives to commemorate the history of the K-25 complex and the city’s larger role in the Manhattan Project, a press release said.

First, about 40 acres located inside the road that now surrounds the original mile-long, U-shaped K-25 Building will be preserved to commemorate and interpret the work that once occurred there. A three-story equipment building will be built at the property’s southern end.

“It will recreate a scale representation of the gaseous diffusion technology and contain authentic equipment used in the K-25 Building,” the release said.

The replica equipment building will also house other equipment that was developed or used at the site. A viewing tower and 12 exhibits that tell parts of the K-25 story will also be included.

Oak Ridge Fire Station

The second floor of a city-owned fire station at the East Tennessee Technology Park will be used for a K-25 history center under an agreement signed this week. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy)

Second, a K-25 History Center will be located on the second level of a nearby fire station owned by the City of Oak Ridge. The history center will include equipment, artifacts, oral histories, photographs, and video. DOE has collected more than 700 original artifacts and archived 70 oral interviews from people who worked at the site.

Third, DOE will give a grant of $500,000 to the East Tennessee Preservation Alliance to support the preservation of the Alexander Inn, a historic structure in Oak Ridge where visiting scientists and dignitaries stayed while visiting the area. The grant will be used to buy the property and stabilize the structure until the inn can be transferred to a private developer.

Officials said the ETPA could receive the grant within 30 days. The two-story hotel in central Oak Ridge has been the subject of preservation efforts for years.

Mark Whitney, DOE’s new head of Environmental Management in Oak Ridge, said the K-25 complex contained more than 500 buildings and 12,000 workers at its peak.

“The Manhattan Project’s enormous scale, which in 1945 included the world’s largest building, was necessary to produce a few grams of uranium-235 that were used to build the atomic bomb that ended the war with Japan,” the press release said.

The K-25 complex was closed in 1987. The original buildings are now being demolished by DOE as part of the largest environmental remediation project in Tennessee’s history. The property is being turned into an industrial park for future economic development.

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