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Construction to soon begin on stimulus-funded ocean research facility

An ocean research laboratory in La Jolla is to be one of the largest projects in the region funded by the federal economic stimulus package. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will provide $102 million for construction of an award-winning green building and technologically advanced test tank.

The total cost of the 124,000-square-foot building is estimated at $104.5 million and site preparation may begin as early as this year.

Although a contract has not yet gone out to bid, completion is expected in 2012, said Roger Hewitt, assistant director of the Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC). Overseen by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal research agency analyzes the oceans and atmosphere and tracks the status of sea creatures and marine mammals from six locations across the United States.

The new building will replace SWFSC’s current facility located on the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego campus on La Jolla Shores Drive. The 1960s-era building is slated for demolition due to its location atop heavily eroded cliffs, Hewitt said. The new building will be constructed directly across the street.

Designed by Gould Evans Architects, the unbuilt project received a rare honor award from the American Institute of Architects San Diego Chapter in 2008. The judging panel was particularly impressed with the project’s inclusion of 90,000 square feet of parking, which is entirely hidden from street view.

“The design is inspired by and responds to the dramatic site conditions and embraces the culture of that scientific community,” Anthony Rohr, design principal for the project said in a written statement.

The project is expected to achieve the LEED Gold standard for sustainability and rely heavily on natural ventilation and lighting. Perhaps one of the building’s most innovative features is a green roof designed to collect rainwater runoff, preventing it from trickling into the nearby ocean. By incorporating native plants, the roof will require little irrigation, Hewitt said.

The new building fits well with the mission of SWFSC, Hewitt said.

“Our mission is to manage and conserve green resources in the California current,” Hewitt said. “To the extent that we’re in the business of conservation, it only makes sense our building exercises conservation as well.”

The building will also make SWFSC a leader in the global science community. The 2 million liter Ocean Technology Development Tank is the only saltwater and freshwater test tank in the world with thermohaline control. The tank will improve the quality and quantity of NOAA’s monitoring activities, by allowing new technologies to be tested in the tank prior to use in the open ocean. The tank allows for simulation of a broad range of temperatures, salinities and living marine animals.

The new SWFSC building is not the only project to receive funding. The agency will make improvements to several laboratories nationwide. In San Diego, SWFSC will also get a new research vessel. Funded with approximately $80 million from ARRA, the ship will replace the David Star Jordan upon its completion in 2014, Hewitt said.

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