Note: This story was updated at 4:30 p.m.
Oak Ridge wants to renovate the fire station where the federal government and its contractors are building the K-25 History Center, a project that is expected to help preserve the history of the World War II-era Manhattan Project.
The K-25 History Center will be built on the second floor of Oak Ridge’s Fire Station Number 4. The fire station is at East Tennessee Technology Park, the former K-25 site in west Oak Ridge.
K-25 was one of three major federal sites built in Oak Ridge during World War II as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. That was a federal program to build the world’s first atomic weapons, before Germany could.
K-25’s signature facility, the K-25 Building, has been demolished. But a 2012 agreement that allowed the complete demolition of that building, once the world’s largest building under one roof, called for the history center at the fire station, among other projects.
Work is proceeding on the K-25 History Center, Oak Ridge Fire Chief Darryl Kerley said in a July 21 memo to City Manager Mark Watson. The K-25 History Center is a project of the U.S. Department of Energy and UCOR, DOE’s cleanup contractor in Oak Ridge.
As that project proceeds, several upgrades will be needed to the first floor of the city-owned fire station in order to create the required living space for fire department personnel, Kerley said.
“The renovations are planned to run concurrent with the remodeling of the second floor since access for much of the history center work on the second floor will require access on the first floor,” Kerley said.
On Monday, the Oak Ridge City Council will consider awarding a $42,000 architectural and engineering services contract to Smee+Busby Architects of Knoxville for the first-floor renovations at Fire Station Number 4, providing permanent operational quarters for fire station personnel.
Kerley said Smee+Busby Architects is providing the engineering and design for the K-25 History Center on the second floor, so they already have much of the information required for the first-floor renovations. Using the same company for both projects will save time and money, and provide a coordinated design for both areas of the fire station, Kerley said.
“We’re working closely with DOE to make this history center and the national park come to fruition out there,” Kerley said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We are working hand-in-hand on property, facilities, and funding to make this become a reality for generations to come.”
The national park is the Manhattan Project National Historical Park. That’s a unique three-park site established in November 2015. Besides Oak Ridge, it includes Hanford, Washington, and Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The story of the K-25 site is an important part of Oak Ridge’s Manhattan Project history.
“What happened during the Manhattan Project changed the history of the world we live in, and we want to make sure this history is preserved,” Kerley said.
Funding for the Smee+Busby contract is available in an account known as the West End Fire Fund, Kerley said in his memo to Watson. DOE is allowing the city to use these funds for improvements and equipment at Fire Station Number Four, and the department has agreed to allow the funds to be used for the relocation of fuel pumps and building renovations in order to start building the K-25 History Center, Kerley said. The funds are DOE money reinvested into the site that allow the city to maintain and continue to provide services.
The existing fuel pumps, which were installed by DOE on property that the department gave to the city, are being moved from the west side of Fire Station Number Four to the east side. The road on the west side of the building will be closed, Kerley said. Workers have started pouring slabs for the new fuel pumps, he said.
Kerley said the city and DOE are working in a close partnership on the K-25 history project, which will also include an Equipment Building and Viewing Tower. The city is giving space free of charge upstairs for the K-25 History Center, and DOE is allowing leftover funds to be used for renovations, the fire chief said.
It’s not clear yet how much it will cost to renovate Fire Station Number Four. Kerley said the heat and air system has to be replaced, and there are also water lines that have to replaced.
DOE transferred the 25,000-square-foot fire station and the 2.2-acre ETTP site to the city about a decade ago. The city and DOE have a renewable, four-year memorandum of agreement that first started in the mid-2000s. DOE provides just over $2 million per year, and the city provides services at ETTP and in support of the other two DOE sites in town when needed, Kerley said.
DOE officials have said construction could start this year on the K-25 History Center. It 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.
Projects depend upon funding, but the goal is to finish the work, including the three-story Equipment Building and 67-foot Viewing Tower, by 2019.
The three history-related facilities at K-25 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.
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. The agreement allowed workers to demolish the North Tower at the K-25 Building, which historic preservationists had lobbied for years to save. In exchange for the complete demolition of K-25, the agreement called for the replica equipment building, the viewing tower, the history center at the fire station, an online virtual museum, and a $500,000 grant to buy and stabilize the historic Alexander Inn in central Oak Ridge, which has since been converted into an assisted living center.
The historic preservation work is expected to cost about $20 million total. That work will be done by DOE and its contractors. A bill approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee in July recommends $8 million for DOE for K-25 historic preservation work.
Oak Ridge, which was once known as Clinton Engineer Works, was the main production site for the Manhattan Project. Three major federal sites were built in Oak Ridge during World War II: K-25, X-10 (now Oak Ridge National Laboratory); and Y-12 (now the Y-12 National Security Complex).
Uranium enrichment facilities were built at K-25 and Y-12 and the pilot facility for plutonium production was built at the Graphite Reactor at ORNL. 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.
The Oak Ridge City Council meeting starts at 7 p.m. Monday, August, 14, in the Oak Ridge Municipal Building Courtroom at 200 South Tulane Avenue. See the agenda here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Learn more about the K-25 History Center, Equipment Building, and Viewing Tower in this story from May.
Learn more about the August 2012 preservation agreement here.
Learn more about the U.S. Senate appropriations bill here.
The Atomic Heritage Foundation has more information about Oak Ridge during and after the war here.
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