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Dorfan Today: Space, the Last Frontier

(Photo - Jonathan Dorfan)There is no greater workplace tension than competition for the utilization of physical space. No matter what kind of organization one polls, the answer always comes back the same: space is the resource that people will fight for with the greatest passion. SLAC is no exception. However, we have a significant space crisis at the lab, and now is the time that we must confront it.

In May 2005, we changed the SLAC organization so as to better serve the scientific mission and the management objectives of the laboratory as it looks to its future. With the Business Improvement and Transition Team (see related TIP article) and the Transition Working Group (TWG, see related SLAC Today article), we examined our business and financial management structures and evolved a new model for the laboratory that provides a smooth transition by 2009 from a DOE Office of High Energy Physics stewarded laboratory to a Basic Energy Sciences (BES) stewarded one. The TWG used the model to generate a detailed plan, including a bottoms-up rebuild of the full laboratory budgets for operating and capital funds, for the year 2009 and beyond. The TWG proposed plan, in all its aspects, received a very strong endorsement from the recently completed DOE BES Linac Operations Review.

The final leg of planning this voyage of change is creating a plan that optimizes the allocation of space. Space utilization at SLAC currently reflects the historical missions of the laboratory and unless we take the challenging step to assess and redefine its use, our scientific objectives will be limited by the lack of mission-appropriate space. Here I am speaking to all forms of space: offices, common work and service areas, technical workspaces, specialized labs and workshops. We need also to consider the current and longer-term use and appropriate disposition of all the accelerator housings and other buildings that currently house major facilities and we need to reduce our dependency on temporary and/or sub-par space such as aging trailers.

The current situation is unsatisfactory. People and technical activities are often cramped into space that is non-optimal for the task at hand. Functional elements that would benefit from co-location are often far apart; a good example of this is our accelerator physics groups. But the greatest problem we face is accommodating the growing and specific needs associated the new scientific vistas that we are opening. The LCLS program brings six new experiments, a new user community and new personnel and physical support imperatives. In addition, the LCLS science requires a suite of laser laboratories and biochemical preparation laboratories, space of the kind we do not currently have. We are fortunate to have the GLAST LAT Instrument Science and Operations Center at SLAC, but it requires tailor-made space to make it fully functional.

Why not seek support from the Department of Energy and Stanford University to build new space? In order to make such a case convincingly, we have to demonstrate unequivocally that the space we already have is being used in the most economic and appropriate manner. And to be clear, currently it is not. Following the successful TWG process, I have established a Space Working Group (SWG), chaired by our two deputy directors, Keith Hodgson and Persis Drell, with the task of generating a Space Plan for the Lab. The SWG will have two major sub-groups: a Programmatic Subgroup which has the task of establishing the needs for space as defined by the scientific programs; and a Planning Subgroup which has the task of using the current inventory of space and the needs defined by the Programmatic Sub-group to establish a space plan for all of SLAC. The Programmatic Subgroup is chaired by Keith and Persis and includes Roger Blandford, Phil Bucksbaum, Britt Hedman, David MacFarlane and Z X Shen. Members of the Planning Subgroup include Lowell Klaisner (Chair), Elizabeth Caplun-Cochrane, Harvey Lynch, Roz Pennacchi, Piero Pianetta and Steve Williams.

Although many long-held associations of space with certain functions exist, this is a time for economy and logical planning, not for tradition. In assessing and reassigning space, prior and current occupancy cannot be seen as determining ownership. No one owns space at SLAC—it needs to be used in the way that benefits the laboratory as a whole.

Although this space re-planning process will be challenging for us all, it is necessary to SLAC's future success. Many of you may be inconvenienced by this process. Since not all existing space problems will get fixed, there will be those of you who will be disappointed, perhaps even feeling overlooked or undervalued. In some cases, your local space needs may be slated for change, but realized more slowly that you would like. I truly appreciate all of these potential outcomes and hardships and yet I ask you for your fullest cooperation and your most patient indulgence. Perhaps SLAC can become a model for how this, the Last Frontier, is peacefully conquered.

—Jonathan Dorfan, September 25, 2006