Oak Ridge National Laboratory is taking a more active role in Oak Ridge’s American Museum of Science and Energy. ORNL’s Director of Communications David Keim said the lab hopes to find better ways to tell the city’s historical story while reducing costs.
He said that the museum’s current contract with Enterprise Advisory Services Inc. would not be renewed at the end of this month, when ORNL will begin operating AMSE. He said preparations are being made to ensure a seamless transition.
Keim said that the transition was made after a team of museum professionals came to the area. After seeing many of Oak Ridge’s historical sites, such as the former K-25 site and ORNL’s first graphite reactor, they called the sites “remarkable” and the historical story “enormous,” according to Keim.
One of the professionals recommended hiring another museum professional to help with the transition period. David Moore was interviewed and hired to assess the museum as a consultant on a one-year term for ORNL, beginning April 15.
Moore, who started his career at National Geographic, boasts a resume of 40 years work in museums and laboratories, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which was part of the Manhattan Project with ORNL. On July 1, Moore will become director at AMSE.
“My role is to make sure that the museum maintains its role in educating the public, telling the story of Oak Ridge and its laboratory, and continuing to grow as an asset within the region and within the nation itself,” Moore said.
He is especially focused on the region’s education and said the museum has an important role there. He also said that the story of Oak Ridge can be told more efficiently and asserts that it’s important for the museum to become self-sufficient to do that. Keim said he was hired to explore the avenues for that self-sufficiency, which may lead to the creation of a nonprofit foundation to fund the museum, as was recommended by the team of professionals.
In the meantime, the museum’s funding remains the same, with the U.S. Department of Energy providing about $1.6 million per year to operate the museum. That funding comes from a three-way split between the Y-12 National Security Complex, ORNL, and the former K-25 site, East Tennessee Technology Park.
Keim said it was recommended that a nonprofit board would have a greater ability to achieve the new goals for the museum but, ultimately, the public will decide the museum’s fate. He said the city plans to hold public meetings to discuss the museum’s future.
Moore said the city is also interested in contributing to the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, which is a proposal being considered in Congress. Although it’s not clear how AMSE will fit into that park, Moore said it’s an important aspect.
“The only thing we can say definitively is that the goal is to operate the museum at lower cost,” Keim said.
For now, that transition includes letting go of four employees to reduce expenses. Currently, museum employees are contractors under EASI. After July 1, staffing firm MPi will oversee the museum’s 14 employees.
“We’re trying to accomplish two goals at the same time,” Keim said. “Yes, we’re trying to reduce costs, but we’re also trying to improve quality and those aren’t mutually exclusive.”
Sara Wise is a freelance contributor to Oak Ridge Today.