Pact inked to build the K-25 observation deck

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A new facility that will share the story of the K-25 building from a new perspective is one step closer to reality thanks to a newly formed partnership between two government agencies.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) has signed an interagency agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the K-25 observation platform. The new facility will be adjacent to the recently opened K-25 History Center and provide visitors with a full view of the building’s 44-acre footprint, according to a press release released Thursday afternoon. The deal also involves the installation of 12 roadside exhibits around the K-25 footprint.

Construction of this facility and roadside exhibits are the latest components of a multi-project agreement OREM signed in 2012 to commemorate the history of the former Oak Ridge Gas Diffusion Plant, where found Building K-25. OREM completed the other elements in previous years, including the construction of the K-25 History Center and a grant to preserve the historic Alexander Inn, which is now an assisted living facility.

“We are grateful for the emergence of this new partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers which allows us to move forward on this project,” said Laura Wilkerson, acting director of OREM, in the press release. “The community has been excited about the idea of ​​this facility, and we look forward to fulfilling our commitment with the assistance and special skills provided by the Corps.”

The Corps will begin by performing a constructability review of the design. Once this is complete and the design is finalized, which is expected in March, the Corps will compete the project and manage the selected construction subcontractor. Construction is expected to begin this fall, and the viewing platform will be completed by the end of 2023.

“We appreciate our continued partnership with the Department of Energy and look forward to managing this construction project,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Sahl, Nashville District Commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers. “The District of Nashville was involved in the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge between 1943 and 1945, so we are thrilled to be part of this project which brings attention to a larger national historic preservation effort to commemorate the significance of the historic building K-25.”

While the K-25 History Center focuses on the men and women who built and operated the Oak Ridge Broadcast Plant during the Manhattan Project and the Cold War, this facility should help visitors understand the scope and scale of the site.

The tallest building in the world

Originally built in 1944, Building K-25 was the largest structure in the world and was responsible for helping to end World War II by producing uranium for the world’s first nuclear weapon. The public will not learn of its existence in Oak Ridge until the end of World War II.

Uranium enrichment operations ended in 1985 and the site was permanently closed in 1987. Subsequently, the DOE became involved and launched a massive environmental cleanup effort to turn the site into a a multi-purpose industrial park for the community. This effort involved demolishing five massive enrichment facilities, including Building K-25, and 500 other structures that supported operations at the site.

OREM and its contractor UCOR completed the demolition of Building K-25 in 2013 and completed all demolition at the site in 2020. This achievement marked the first time in the world that an enrichment complex has been demolished. OREM and UCOR completed the effort four years ahead of schedule, saving taxpayers $500 million, the statement said.

An artist's renderings of the new viewing deck, which will be located adjacent to the newly constructed K-25 History Center overlooking the footprint of the K-25 building.  This would be the scene someone in the parking lot would see from the observation deck

The transformed site, now called East Tennessee Technology Park, already has numerous private businesses on site, as well as extensive conservation areas and a national park. The K-25 building footprint is in the Manhattan Project National Historic Park, a unit of the National Park Service that contains sites in Oak Ridge; Los Alamos, New Mexico; and Hanford, Washington.

An artistic depiction of the new viewing platform, which will be located adjacent to the newly constructed K-25 History Center, overlooking the footprint of the K-25 building.  To the left is the viewing platform and the history center is to the right.
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