This is one of several interviews in a series about the changes we can expect at the Lab during 2024.
At 93-years old, the Lab is in a constant race to build new facilities and renew its aging infrastructure to support world class science. A leader of these efforts is Millard “Skip” Dunham, Deputy Director of the Projects & Infrastructure Modernization Division, who really hopes that Nobel research will be done one day in a building he helped build.
Learn more about the small and large construction and infrastructure projects that will impact the Lab in the coming years.
Q. What are the major projects in 2024 for the Projects and Infrastructure Modernization Division?
A: Several of PIM’s major projects, the large projects, have started and are visible. Some projects are not so visible.
BioEPIC [Biological and Environmental Program Integration Center] is the one at the top of the list. It should be substantially complete by the end of the 2024 calendar year. We’re building out the interior presently and starting on building energization and commissioning as we go into the summer.
The next large project is the Seismic Safety and Modernization (SSM) new facility, what we used to call the cafeteria. We’ve been doing site prep up until now. We just started foundation work last week. We’ve removed the old cafeteria and we’re going to be doing the structural steel and foundation work this year.
LAMP [the Linear Asset Modernization Project], which will be a 10 year project, is going to be in design [phase] this year. LAMP will touch a lot of the roads and walking paths on the hill site as we upgrade electrical and piped utilities. There’s more information to come on that project as time goes on.
At a high level, PIM has 29 projects in construction and 36 in design. That equates to about $175 million in work for the year, which is about the same as we did in 2023. We have a similar workload, and we’ll see similar impacts.
Q. How will these projects advance the lab’s research mission?
A. BioEPIC is going to provide a building for the Biosciences and Earth and Environmental Sciences Areas in Bayview adjacent to IGB [Integrative Genomics Building]. Bayview is where a biocampus for the Lab is envisioned. SSM will be the conferencing space for collaboration and coffee.
Q. What excites you about these projects?
A. PIM’s mission is to upgrade facilities to enable great science. That’s something that I get excited about. I don’t have a scientific background to do the research, but I feel like I’m contributing to the research. It would be really fun for some Nobel prize work to be discovered in a building that we built. That would be pretty interesting stuff to tell your grandkids.
Q. How will PIM address the challenges that are going to come from these projects?
A. I think the biggest challenge is the Lab’s tolerance for change and the impact to the Lab population given what’s happening in the streets and sidewalks. Everything we touch affects a road, or a parking lot, or a walking path. Nobody likes change, but that’s how we improve. We have to touch roads and sidewalks to make things better. And we ask for tolerance and that you trust that at the end of the day it will increase the Lab’s ability to do science.
PIM is working harder to communicate with building owners, building managers, and facility area managers to tell them what’s going on near their building so that their occupants can be notified. We just need to tell people often and consistently what we’re doing. That’s the challenge, to get that communication path out there so people know who to listen to and where to get the information.
How does PIM partner with research on large and small projects?
A. Large projects, which I define as the federal congressional budget line item projects, have a five or six year development cycle. PIM, as a project function, works with research when they need a building, or they need space or utility updates to existing buildings. We can provide the management structure to ask for the money, to get the funding requests in, and to go through the critical decision process that the DOE requires to get a project approved and constructed. The benefit of having PIM on large projects is that we’ve done them many times, and it’s an arduous process that you have to go through. That is our expertise.
For the smaller ones, we meet monthly or more frequently with the Lab’s Strategic Planning Office and the science Areas, to ask what they need. These smaller projects are just as important as the large ones for many researchers. The Scientific Equipment Installation (SEI) Team is something that we instituted [for smaller projects]. And we’re still in the process of changing the way we do things [for small projects]. What’s the best mix to get science equipment installed ongoing?
Q. What accomplishments or progress are you most proud of as a division?
We’ve had a great safety record. We’ve really had a safety record that I’m proud of in the recent term. You have to build a culture of safety, and it’s really easy to say that. It takes constant reinforcement, though.
Three years ago we started a subcontractor safety council. Once a month we talk to our subcontractors and just ask, what are your issues? What are your constraints? We talk through lessons learned and examples of things that have happened. I have not seen a recurring repeat of the same issue when it gets discussed in that forum.
Also we’re trying to instill a field-focused approach to projects and work. The field is where good things can happen and bad things can happen. Good things like getting something constructed safely, bad things like an environmental incident or an injury or something like that. But it’s always in the field. So if we can get everyone focused on what’s going on in the field and do the work, planning for safe work and oversight, and everybody’s thinking about the field, then it puts us in a good place.