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UC Davis and Sierra Nevada College Will Build Tahoe Research & Education Facility

January 28, 2004

In a historic partnership, the University of California, Davis, and Sierra Nevada College announced today that an urgently needed Tahoe environmental research and education facility will be built on the Sierra Nevada College campus in Incline Village, Nev.

The Desert Research Institute and the RAND Corp. will be collaborators in the $24 million project, to be called the Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences.

The project is an unusual combination of public and private institutions in two states and is supported by federal, state, private and foundation funding. Under development for a decade, the new facility will be an international leader for science and teaching on the preservation of alpine lakes and their watersheds.

The new building will house offices and laboratories of the UC Davis Tahoe Research Group and the Desert Research Institute; exhibits and educational programs in the Thomas J. Long Foundation Education Center; offices, laboratories and classrooms for Sierra Nevada College students; and conference space for 300 people.

"This is a terrific outcome for the Tahoe Basin and all of us who love it," said Charles Goldman, the UC Davis scientist who has led Tahoe studies for 44 years.

"In this one place, we will be able to conduct the research needed to keep the lake healthy and blue, educate the next generation of Tahoe scientists, teach our children about the basin's natural resources, and inform the public officials who decide the basin's future," Goldman said.

Sierra Nevada College President Ben Solomon said the new facility is particularly well suited to the college's environmental sciences program and its emphasis on "green" building methods.

"The mission of Sierra Nevada College from its inception in 1969 was to build a campus using 'green technology,' which is perfectly suited to the endangered environment of Lake Tahoe and to the approximately 300 sunny days we enjoy each year," Solomon said. "We are genuinely pleased to have these ideas come to fruition in the new Tahoe Center."

Sierra Nevada College, with about 300 undergraduate students, is the only four-year, private college in Nevada. Environmental Sciences is a signature program and offers academic majors in environmental science and environmental policy. The Tahoe Center will enhance and expand these programs in the years to come.

The college's chair of science and technology, Steve Ellsworth, said, "The partnerships and resources involved in this center will enable SNC to become a premier location for the undergraduate study of environmental science and policy."

The Desert Research Institute is a specialized research program of the University and Community College System of Nevada, with campuses in Reno and Las Vegas, and studies worldwide. Its programs focus on air and water quality, the response of ecosystems to natural and human influences, global climate change and environmental sustainability.

The mission of the RAND Corp. is to improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, and to bridge the gap between environmental science and policy. The creation of the Tahoe Center will allow RAND to meet its objectives and strengthen its ability to forge new policy research, most notably in adaptive planning and management.

UC Davis began studying Lake Tahoe when Charles Goldman began his career there in 1959. Since 1975, Tahoe Research Group scientists have worked in a crowded, leaky, unheated former fish hatchery near Tahoe City, "doing world-class research in a Third-World facility," as Goldman puts it.

Nonetheless, the UC Davis Tahoe Research Group has become the leading research institution in the basin. UC Davis data provide the official annual assessment of the lake's clarity. Many research agencies in the basin are collaborating on a new water-pollution standard for 2007, known as the Lake Tahoe Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL); that $6 million project is coordinated by UC Davis Tahoe Research Group watershed scientist John Reuter.

In 1994, UC Davis began fund raising to build the modern research facilities that Tahoe scientists needed. Donors from around the world gave $13 million, including $2.6 million from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. The Thomas J. Long Foundation gave $2 million for a public education center.

Sierra Nevada College proposed the shared facility last summer and the schools' administrators and scientists have been exploring the possibility since then. A letter of agreement was signed earlier this month.

A $750,000 appropriation for the project, proposed by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and supported by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, was recently approved by Congress and the president.

Dennis Rolston, director of UC Davis' John Muir Institute of the Environment, said the new Tahoe Center will serve as a gathering place for all the institutions and agencies that have academic and outreach programs in the Tahoe Basin. It's a long list that includes UC Davis, University of Nevada, Desert Research Institute, U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Forest Service.

"This center will help fulfill the objectives of the Tahoe Environmental Sciences System (TESS) agreement, signed in 1999 by those programs to foster research and share facilities to promote sound environmental management of the basin," Rolston said.

The Tahoe Center will be located in the heart of Sierra Nevada College's 18-acre Lake Campus, in Incline Village on the southwest corner of Highway 28 and Country Club Drive. The building will have about 45,000 square feet. The first-floor doors will open into the Thomas J. Long Education Center, which will feature exhibits about the Tahoe environment. Behind the Long Center will be the conference space. Classrooms will be on the second floor, and research offices and labs on the third floor.

UC Davis plans to renovate the hatchery building in Tahoe City and use it as a staging area for field work. UC Davis' research boat, the John LeConte, will continue to be docked at the Tahoe City Marina.

The architects for the Tahoe Center project are Lundahl and Associates of Reno, Nev. The firm has designed other educational facilities in the western United States, including the Computing Services Center at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Reynolds School of Journalism at University of Nevada, Reno.

Principal Jeff Lundahl said the Tahoe Center will be an example of sustainable design, based on principles of energy and resource conservation plus human and environmental health.

"Our goal is to design this facility to achieve a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver Rating as administered by the U.S. Green Building Council," said Lundahl. "We are pleased and excited to be selected for a project of such importance to the educational and research communities."

Construction of the building could begin as soon as summer of 2005, after it has been approved by the Sierra Nevada College Board of Trustees and the University of California Regents. The trustees will consider the plan in May 2004; the regents will consider it in June 2004. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency has already approved Sierra Nevada College's plan for a research and teaching building on the designated site.

A community celebration at the site is planned for an undetermined date later this year.

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