LBNL Seeks Computer Lab Builder

By Richard Brenneman
Friday July 20, 2007

The search for a builder to erect a $90.4 million, 140,000-square-foot, 300-office state-of-the art computing research center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is down to the short list.  

The search was launched simultaneously with the hunt for a builder for the $160 million, 160,000-square-foot Helios building, which will house the labs for the $500 million BP (formerly British Petroleum) search for biofuels. 

The lab’s Computational Research & Theory Building will rise at the opposite end of the 203-acre LBNL complex from the Helios lab, a short distance from Blackberry Gate near the western end of the complex. 

The building will house 300 offices totaling 85,000 square feet and a 35,000-square-foot computer room with two separate hardware systems, with the remaining 22,000 square feet reserved for mechanical and electrical equipment. 

The building will rise to either four or five floors, depending on the final plans. 

Programs housed at the center will support key missions of the federal Department of Energy (DOE), which contracts with UC Berkeley to run the lab, though the scientists who work there will be employees of the university and not the DOE, according to the prospectus presented to would-be builders. 

The heart of the building is the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, a round-the-clock operation operating with state-of-the-art hardware designated for replacement every three years. 

The structure would also house another computing facility to host ESnet, described as a “leading networking facility supporting all of DOE’s networking requirement in support of its science mission.” 

The third component, Computational Research Division, is described as “an internationally leading computation science and energy research effort.” 

According to the prospectus, the center will directly serve about 2,500 scientists working on an estimated 250 projects at any given time. 

According to the project’s schedule, a project environmental impact report should be ready for final approval by next January, with the design finalized by the following August and construction occurring between January 2009 and April 2011. 

The UC Board of Regents gave their blessings to the structure at the same March meeting in which they authorized the Helios building. Both buildings are being constructed without federal funding, though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is providing $40 million in state bond funds for the Helios building. 

According to LBNL’s 2008-2017 plan created for the DOE last year, the complex will replace the existing Oakland Scientific Facility for the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which is described as occupying an “inefficient” location which is “less secure than optimal.” 

That facility, housed in a former bank building at 415 20th St., opened in 2001, the first LBNL facility located outside either the lab itself or the UC Berkeley campus. Oakland’s then-Mayor Jerry Brown attended the dedication ceremonies on May 24.