The National Park Service will move its visitor center and offices in Oak Ridge to the Children’s Museum in October, officials said Friday.
The National Park Service has a visitor center and offices in Oak Ridge as part of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, a three-site park that was established in November 2015 after years of advocacy.
The visitor center and offices are now located at the American Museum of Science and Energy, or AMSE, on South Tulane Avenue. But that museum is closing as part of a land transfer related to the Main Street Oak Ridge development.
“We have been so fortunate to have been based at AMSE for the first 18 months of this new national historical park,” said Kris Kirby, Manhattan Project National Historical Park superintendent. “The staff and volunteers have been outstanding partners providing space and backup support with all of our activities. We consider the entire City of Oak Ridge to be part of the park and will continue to offer programming in multiple locations throughout the area.”
A press release on Friday said the park’s new visitor center will be co-located with the Children’s Museum of Oak Ridge, which is located at 461 West Outer Drive in Oak Ridge. The Children’s Museum is located in a former Manhattan Project-era elementary school, and it operates in 54,000 square feet with exhibits, classes, and programs for all ages, the press release said.
“The Children’s Museum shares the National Park Service’s mission of educating children and the community,” said Tom Beehan, president of the Children’s Museum Board of Trustees. “It’s a great opportunity for the museum to join the National Park Service in presenting the history of Oak Ridge.”
The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is administered jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Park Service to preserve parts of three World War II sites where the United States developed the first atomic weapons. The park commemorates the history of the people, science, and events that led to creation of the atomic bomb in the top-secret Manhattan Project during World War II, and it explores the associated moral and ethical responsibilities that are still relevant today, the press release said. Besides Oak Ridge, the sites include Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
There had been some expectation that the National Park Service would move with the U.S. Department of Energy’s public education and outreach missions now housed at AMSE to new space in the former Sears Roebuck at Main Street Oak Ridge, the 58-acre project to redevelop the former Oak Ridge Mall. The National Park Service and U.S. Department of Energy are both involved in the new national park, and Main Street Oak Ridge is near high-traffic roadways in the center of the city. It’s also near the Oak Ridge Municipal Building.
But the National Park Service hadn’t committed to moving into the former Sears Roebuck space as of April 17, saying it needed more information. In April, Niki Nicholas, site manager of the Oak Ridge unit of the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, said the National Park Service had several options in Oak Ridge, including Main Street Oak Ridge. The Park Service doesn’t have a large staff in Oak Ridge and will have to be co-located with someone else, Nicholas said. There are some things that still aren’t clear about the new Sears Roebuck space, including its operating hours and staffing. Also unclear is how funding for DOE and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which manages AMSE, might change under the Trump administration and what impact that might have on the public outreach and education missions now conducted at AMSE. ORNL funding could be cut by $185 million in the next fiscal year, which starts October 1, under the budget request from President Donald Trump, although Congress has not approved that budget request.
In April, Claire Sinclair of the ORNL Site Office said DOE officials remained committed to partnering with the National Park Service and to having a “really nice” information center in Oak Ridge. DOE always expected that it would partner with the Park Service like it has at AMSE, Sinclair said. DOE will be the tenant at the former Sears Roebuck space, and the goal had been to jointly co-locate with the National Park Service, she said.
The details of the move of the DOE public outreach and education missions from AMSE to Main Street Oak Ridge are still being worked out, but DOE has to be out of the AMSE building by the end of December.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
You can learn more about the Manhattan Project National Historical Park here.
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