MUKILTEO — State-of-the-art scientific research is tough to do in former Air Force barracks.
The lineage of the 70-year old waterfront building can be seen in the humble, wooden structure that serves as home to the Mukilteo Research Station, a federal center focused on ocean and fishery issues.
It’s beset with sloping floors and a foundation whose temporary supports are only expected to last about another four years.
Good news for the scientists who work there came buried in the depths of the latest federal government’s budget — a $4.6 million down payment for a new building.
Plans call for a $33 million, 26,000-square-foot building that could open in 2020.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, who announced the approval of the money, said the $4.6 million will pay for design and environmental work for the new research station, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The new building will be constructed adjacent to the existing building.
Paul McElhany, station chief at the research station, said even after the federal budget was approved, the proposal had to pass muster with another review by NOAA.
When that hurdle was cleared, scientists didn’t waste time. He and several coworkers traveled to Juneau, Alaska, to tour the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute, a marine research lab built a decade ago.
They looked for ideas they might be able to include in planning the new Mukilteo building.
The building’s seawater pumping and temperature controls were of special interest.
“I have a lot of pictures of plumbing — kind of boring,” McElhany said.
But critical in experiments.
Mukilteo pumps about 200 gallons of seawater a minute to use for experiments. The new building will have about triple that capacity, he said.
Scientists are researching topics such as the effects of the ocean’s increasing acidity on sea life. They also are working to restore what was once a thriving supply of native pinto abalone in the nearby San Juan Islands. The abalone were driven to the edge of extinction by overharvesting.
The new building will allow scientists to conduct more complicated research than now possible.
For example, NOAA scientists researched some of the environmental impacts on fish species caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in 2010, he said.
The current building’s age and other factors don’t allow that type of sophisticated work to be conducted. It’s an example of the type of exacting research that could be accomplished in the new building, he said.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org.