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Students Imagine Paducah Site as Technical, Industrial Hub

May 14, 2012 - 12:00pm

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Senior Advisor for Environmental Management Dave Huizenga, right, and Portsmouth-Paducah Project Office Manager Bill Murphie listen as UK College of Design graduate student Nate Owings, foreground, explains a Paducah site model. The model was displayed at the EM Site- Specific Advisory Board Chairs Meeting in Paducah, where Huizenga spoke April 18.

Senior Advisor for Environmental Management Dave Huizenga, right, and Portsmouth-Paducah Project Office Manager Bill Murphie listen as UK College of Design graduate student Nate Owings, foreground, explains a Paducah site model. The model was displayed at the EM Site- Specific Advisory Board Chairs Meeting in Paducah, where Huizenga spoke April 18.

Yellow lights in the team's Paducah site model show groundwater monitoring well and soil boring locations.

Yellow lights in the team's Paducah site model show groundwater monitoring well and soil boring locations.

Shown at the Paducah Citizens Advisory Board office, this model depicts a 10-square-mile area around the Paducah site to a depth of several hundred feet. Yellow structures depict the site’s four large uranium hexafluoride process buildings.

Shown at the Paducah Citizens Advisory Board office, this model depicts a 10-square-mile area around the Paducah site to a depth of several hundred feet. Yellow structures depict the site’s four large uranium hexafluoride process buildings.

Senior Advisor for Environmental Management Dave Huizenga, right, and Portsmouth-Paducah Project Office Manager Bill Murphie listen as UK College of Design graduate student Nate Owings, foreground, explains a Paducah site model. The model was displayed at the EM Site- Specific Advisory Board Chairs Meeting in Paducah, where Huizenga spoke April 18.
Yellow lights in the team's Paducah site model show groundwater monitoring well and soil boring locations.
Shown at the Paducah Citizens Advisory Board office, this model depicts a 10-square-mile area around the Paducah site to a depth of several hundred feet. Yellow structures depict the site’s four large uranium hexafluoride process buildings.

PADUCAH, Ky. – University of Kentucky (UK) College of Design students envision the Paducah site as a thriving, multiple-use area in the future.

Over the past year, the students have studied how to preserve, replace, or even build on the more than 3,000 direct and indirect jobs the site currently supports, said Gary Rohrbacher, assistant professor in the college. Future success hinges on interrelated uses such as research and development, education, energy production, manufacturing and recycling and reclamation, he said.

“We told them to think like the original scientists of the Manhattan Project,” Rohrbacher said. “Regenerating a community is as important today as the Cold War was then to the growth of the community.

” As part of a comprehensive plan, the team proposes a think tank that would attract leading scientists to the Paducah site to develop innovative groundwater cleanup solutions, Rohrbacher said.

“We’re looking at the possibility of Paducah pioneering to export information to other groundwater-contamination sites,” he said. “That could actually be a huge growth industry and a catalyst for regenerating the community.”

Rohrbacher and assistant professor Anne Filson led the research effort sponsored by the Department through the Kentucky Research Consortium on Energy and the Environment (KRCEE) at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research.

“We want to be good stewards of the site assets and are impressed with the team’s work in envisioning future land use,” said Reinhard Knerr, the Department’s Paducah site Lead.

The first design research lab, which started in spring 2011, was aptly named Manhattan Redux, meaning to restore the nearly 60-year-old Paducah site to its former prominence. Students planned a 150-year scenario to address the site’s chief environmental cleanup issue — about 2,100 acres of contaminated groundwater — and stimulate reindustrialization.

Focus: New Groundwater Model

During summer 2011, the team built a three-dimensional model showing the Paducah site above shallow and deep portions of the groundwater system. The 4-by-9-foot model depicts a 10-square-mile area to a depth of several hundred feet. Made of high-density tooling board, aluminum, acrylic glass and other materials, the model is about 5 feet tall when fully extended on poles.

People from the research lab presented the model during an October 2011 meeting of DOE’s Paducah Citizens Advisory Board. The model was designed for use at the Department’s Environmental Information Center at 111 Memorial Drive in Paducah, where the board meets.

“They needed something tangible for people to understand what’s there in the groundwater and what’s being done about it,” said Carolyn Parrish, a UK College of Design postgraduate research assistant and design team project manager.

Filson was instrumental in developing subsequent interactive models, one of which was displayed in April at the EM Site-Specific Advisory Board (SSAB) Chairs Meeting at the Luther F. Carson Center in Paducah. Attending were representatives of advisory boards at eight DOE sites throughout the nation.

Similar to the first model, subsequent models were built in layers, each of which can be updated as progress is made at the Paducah site, Filson said. Interactive kits feature markers, measuring tools, and erasable markers to support communication and meaningful exchange among stakeholders ranging from scientists to contractors to community residents.

“We’ve understood from the beginning there’s a disconnect between the community’s understanding of the (groundwater) problem and the complexity of the problem,” Filson said. “Much of our effort on the models has been devoted to bridging that gap.”

The model and plans developed for the Paducah site are on display through December at the 5th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam, which began April 20. More than 100,000 architects, planners, and designers typically attend the Biennale in the Netherlands, a world architectural showcase of problems seen as opportunities.

The world conference, which takes place in a nation that emphasizes land reclamation, is “a chance to put Paducah on the map,” Parrish said.

The site model was based on detailed, state-of-the-art, subsurface digital models of geologic, hydrogeologic, and geophysical data. KRCEE, the Kentucky Geological Survey, UK Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, and subject matter experts developed the scale models to help better understand and develop remedies for groundwater contamination, said Steve Hampson, associate director of the UK Center for Applied Research.

Building Intellectual Property

Last fall, the students visited the Paducah site and focused on four uranium enrichment facilities that were among the world’s largest buildings when they were constructed in the early 1950s, Rohrbacher said.

“We looked at what could happen to reindustrialize those buildings, trying to be as optimistic and imaginative as possible,” Rohrbacher said.

Students from a second design research lab, known as the Paducah+ Studio, broke into three groups. One compared and contrasted Paducah with nine cities with similar environmental problems. Another proposed a series of engineered plants and communities of animal- and plant-like robots networked through digital control and sensing. A third team focused on interrelated Paducah site uses involving energy, environment, education and economy.

During the spring 2012 semester, the class took on the challenging task of making a coherent, inspiring story for display at the EM SSAB Chairs Meeting, in the Netherlands, and at UK. The model and related exhibits will eventually be displayed at the Emerging Technology Center at West Kentucky Community & Technical College in Paducah.

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