Berkeley Lab Richmond campus faces setback due to sequester

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Funding for construction of the first building at the joint UC Berkeley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory satellite campus in Richmond has faced a setback due to the federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

The Department of Energy, which financially supports Berkeley lab, was unable to allocate money for new building projects because of the sequester. Both UC Berkeley and Berkeley lab will continue to draft the Long Range Development Plan and procure the proper entitlements necessary to start construction at Richmond Field Station.

Bill Lindsay, Richmond city manager, said he feels confident that the project is going forward and will be beneficial for the city of Richmond.

“We would be disappointed for it to be delayed, but we are keeping in mind that we are in it for the long haul as a 40-year project,” Lindsay said. “Not all 5.2 million square feet is going to get built in year one, and it’s going to take some time. And over that 40-year period, things are going to ebb and flow a little bit.”

Despite the hindrance in funding construction of the first building, Lindsay notes that UC Berkeley and Berkeley lab are continuing the process to obtain the proper entitlements to further the project, such as drafting and submitting an environmental impact report.

“They want to make sure that it is teed up, so when funding does come through, it is ready to go,” Lindsay said.

Presenting the preliminary Long Range Development Plan at a June 20 Richmond community meeting, Berkeley lab Chief Operating Officer Glenn Kubiak said that both Berkeley lab and UC Berkeley are currently constrained for space when considering their mission to further bio-science and green energy.

“Twenty-five percent of the Berkeley lab staff are currently in leases sprinkled throughout the East Bay, all the way as far away as Walnut Creek and away from our main site,” Kubiak said. “The way I like to think about this is by bringing our bio-sciences together creates sort of a melting-pot biological discovery.”

Julie Sinai, director of local government and community relations at UC Berkeley, said that development of the satellite campus will allow UC Berkeley to develop more consequential programs that have a larger effect than just on academics.

“We do kind of basic science here on the campus,” Sinai said. “To be able to have larger lab space to do applied work and to then bridge potentially some workforce development partnerships with the community colleges — those things are just hard to do here because we’re pretty packed.”

Sinai said she believes the potential scientific gains that will be made at the new campus will draw funding for construction.

“We build buildings when we need to, so there are various financing strategies that you can use, and that is just what we’ll have to explore,” Sinai said. “Whether or not we’re breaking ground in 2014 right now is really based on what financing we are able to put together, so chances are groundbreaking will be more likely in 2015.”

Contact Chase Schweitzer at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ChaseSchweitz.