Construction could start this year on the K-25 History Center at the East Tennessee Technology Park in west Oak Ridge, federal officials said. Plans also call for an Equipment Building and Viewing Tower at the site. Although the projects depend upon funding, the goal is to finish the work by 2019.
The K-25 site was one of three large sites built by the federal government in Oak Ridge during World War II to help make the world’s first atomic weapons as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. The other two sites were X-10, which is now known as Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Y-12, now the Y-12 National Security Complex.
At K-25, the three history-related facilities will have three missions. The History Center will tell the story of the workers. The Equipment Building will focus on the technology. And the Viewing Tower will show visitors the size of the site. All three facilities will be on the south side of the former mile-long, U-shaped K-25 Building.
K-25 used a process called gaseous diffusion to enrich uranium for atomic weapons and, later, for commercial nuclear power plants. Officials and contractors have said that K-25 helped win the Cold War. The site is now known as Heritage Center or East Tennessee Technology Park.
Preserving its history is part of a Memorandum of Agreement that was signed in August 2012 and allowed for the complete demolition of K-25, once the world’s largest building under one roof. The historic preservation work is expected to cost about $20 million total.
Besides the K-25 work, the 2012 agreement also provided a $500,000 grant for the former Alexander Inn, a historic building that has since been converted into an assisted living center in central Oak Ridge.
Ben Williams, spokesperson in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, said construction work on the K-25 History Center could start this fall. It will be on the second floor of the city-owned fire station at ETTP. The second floor will be reconfigured to fit the specifications of the History Center, and there will be some work to improve accessibility, Williams said.
The K-25 History Center will be about 7,700 square feet, and it’s expected to include a theater, a gallery that changes, and exhibits that could include artifacts from K-25 and the Manhattan Project. It will be open to the public.
“It’s designed to tell the story of the workers at K-25,” Williams said.
Oak Ridge Today reported a few years ago that there were, at that time, 700 artifacts in storage and available for historic preservation, although it’s not clear if that number has changed.
The three-story Equipment Building will be adjacent to the History Center at the city-owned fire station, Fire Station Number 4. The Equipment Building will include a replica of a converter, which was equipment used to enrich uranium.
Oak Ridge Today has previously reported that the Equipment Building would replicate the exterior appearance of K-25 and house a representative cross-section of gaseous diffusion equipment, with a design structurally similar to K-25.
The Viewing Tower will have a roof that will be 67 feet high. It will be part of the Equipment Building but higher than it. The tower will feature a panoramic view, so visitors can see the whole site and the 44-acre “footprint” of the mile-long, U-shaped K-25 Building.
“The goal was specifically to be able to see the whole footprint of K-25,” Williams said.
During an April 12 community budget workshop, Jay Mullis, acting manager of the Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management, said the design and construction of the History Center will cost about $6 million and at least another $6 million will be required to finish the History Center and start the Equipment Building next year. At least another $8 million to $9 million will be required to finish the Equipment Building and Viewing Tower, Mullis said. That’s roughly $20 million total.
Oak Ridge Today has previously reported that the funds are expected to come from money appropriated from Congress to the U.S. Department of Energy for cleanup and compliance projects.
Officials have previously said that implementation of the initiatives included in the preservation plan agreed to in 2012 could take five to seven years to carry out.
Besides the K-25 History Center, Equipment Building, and Viewing Tower, plans also call for wayside exhibits around the K-25 Building site. Officials are still studying what to do with the building slab; at least one plan called for alternating the slab with long and short switchgrass. There could be a walking path and bicycle path, with a shorter trek possible near the History Center and Equipment Building, and a longer track around the K-25 Building site.
There is also a K-25 virtual museum at http://k-25virtualmuseum.org/. In addition, K-25 is expected to be part of the relatively new Manhattan Project National Historical Park, although specific plans for integrating K-25 into the park haven’t been announced yet.
The Manhattan Project is considered one of the most significant events in U.S. history and one of the top scientific achievements of the 20th century. Oak Ridge residents still marvel at how quickly the three local sites (K-25, X-10, and Y-12) were built and began operating in a race to build an atomic bomb before Germany. At K-25, residents continue to marvel at the sheer size of the K-25 Building, its construction in only 18 months, and the fact that construction started on the gaseous diffusion building before researchers had proved that the technology worked.
Oak Ridge was the main production site for the Manhattan Project. Oak Ridge built uranium enrichment facilities for the Manhattan Project at K-25 and Y-12 and the pilot facility for plutonium production at the Graphite Reactor at ORNL, which was then known as X-10. Uranium enriched at Y-12 fueled the first atomic bomb used in wartime. Code-named “Little Boy,” it was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, shortly before the end of the war.
At its peak, the K-25 complex contained more than 500 buildings and employed 12,000 workers. It closed in 1987. The original buildings are now being demolished by DOE as part of what has been described as the largest environmental remediation project in Tennessee’s history. The property is being turned into an industrial park for future economic development.
You can see a 3-D rendering of the K-25 History Center, Equipment Building, and Viewing Tower in the video below, at the end of this story, courtesy of the DOE Oak Ridge Office.
See a previous story on K-25 historic preservation here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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