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News / Business / Clark County Business

Bonneville Power Administration’s Ross Complex celebrates new addition

Technical Services Building opens at site in Vancouver

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 12, 2023, 6:32pm
4 Photos
Bonneville Power Administration's Steven Laslo, right, talks about the building's "fishbowl," an insider term describing a glass-enclosed testing area packed with equipment. BPA commemorated its new Technical Services Building at its Ross Complex in Vancouver.
Bonneville Power Administration's Steven Laslo, right, talks about the building's "fishbowl," an insider term describing a glass-enclosed testing area packed with equipment. BPA commemorated its new Technical Services Building at its Ross Complex in Vancouver. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Bonneville Power Administration commemorated the opening of its new Technical Services Building, the first complete project outlined in its vision for the Ross Complex’s future.

Though the public can’t access BPA’s campus or see its new facility, the project has a rollout of significant benefits for the region, chiefly related to the federal agency’s efficiency and safety, said John Hairston, BPA administrator and CEO.

“These renovations are going to be vital for us as we move forward with our new strategic plan and making sure we’re helping support the evolving grid, helping customers meet their challenges around electrification and promoting growth,” Hairston told a crowd of BPA workers during the ribbon-cutting Wednesday afternoon. BPA’s Ross Complex, a 260-acre campus in Vancouver, coordinates how hydropower generated on the Columbia River is distributed through the Pacific Northwest.

Hairston was joined by several agency leaders and employees, as well as those who had a hand in the new facility’s development, officially completed in May. Many were giddy to move into the new building; others were happy the cacophony of beeps and honks during months of construction had concluded.

The new 60,000-square-foot Technical Services Building hosts technical labs and training spaces where employees can engage with hands-on simulations for transmission testing, diagnostic and repair functions for its power system control and protection. General office space will be home to about 170 staffers, some of whom were previously segmented from their central project teams at the old building.

It’s one of many facilities on the campus that have stood since the 1930s. Robin Furrer, BPA’s chief administrative officer, calls them “vintage.” They were built with a minimalist design, specifically with thick concrete walls, narrow halls and not much natural lighting.

According to some employees, it even smelled old.

Yet, aside from its outdated superficial qualities, a facility upgrade was necessary to meet evolving safety requirements and building standards, many of which vary greatly from when it was built more than 80 years ago.

“The work that we do is inherently hazardous,” said Furrer, who was formerly the agency’s vice president for transmission field services. “We can’t have people in buildings that are not safe.”

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The new Technical Services Building is seismically fit and is pursuing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certification, a label that indicates sustainable building design, construction and operations. Though its beautification is still worth acknowledging.

Office nooks are organized in open spaces, equipment is easily accessible and conference rooms are easily illuminated with sun beams through wide, tall windows. A colorful three-story mural called “The Power of Progress” displays multiple scenes of wildlife, workers tending to transmission lines and other components of the region’s history.

The building’s “fishbowl,” an insider term to describe a glass-enclosed testing area packed with racks of equipment, is now an open aquarium. Each floor was built modularly, meaning rooms can be easily expanded in the future.

“It’s going to stay with us over time and needs to be flexible,” said Brad Wright, BPA project team member, during a building tour. “As we change and the work changes, we can adjust and meet new needs.”

Mortenson, the contractor that led the project, worked with a team comprised of staff from Opsis Architecture, DGA and Jacobs Team.

The building cost about $54 million, a price tag more miniscule than the $85 million in upgrades to its former 80-year-old structure would have cost, according to Thane Miller, the Ross Complex Redevelopment Program architect and manager.

“The (Technical Services Building) project is a significant pilot project, carving BPA’s path into the progressive design-build project delivery method,” he wrote in a release.

This approach, a specialty of Mortenson’s, is a change from the “status quo” of procurement methods and is centralized on collaboration.

Specifically, it uses a qualifications-based selection whereby the owner chooses a design and contract price within a team as opposed to choosing an option solely based on cost. In doing this, the team cut two months off its construction timeline and more than $1 million.

Mike Clifford, Mortenson vice president and general manager, said the Technical Services Building is a benchmark for the campus’s future.

Overall, the Ross Complex redevelopment project upgrades the campus’s multiple offices, maintenance buildings and substation. The project, slated to be completed by 2029, involves a litany of logistical changes, demolishing old buildings, seismic and security infrastructure upgrades, as well as a new chemistry lab, fuel island and reuse of BPA’s hazardous material building, according to Mortenson.

“To have this be so successful is really amazing because it allows us to get better from here,” he said. “We have the ability to tweak it and just make it stronger.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer