Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey say they intend to shut down the agency's West Coast science center in Menlo Park over the next five years beginning next year, and relocate the center at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View.
The first phase of the transition is expected to occur over the next year with about 175 employees -- around one-third of the USGS Menlo Park staff -- moving to Moffett Field in Mountain View.
The full transition is expected to take up to five years, and will involve moving the office's full workforce, along with an array of complex scientific gear installed at the Menlo Park center.
The reason for the move is primarily financial, explained Colin Williams, a USGS science center director who is part of the transition team. The USGS campus at 345 Middlefield Road is owned by the General Services Administration, the government agency that serves as a property manager for federal office buildings. The GSA is obligated under federal law to charge market-rate rent for its properties, even in pricey locales such as the Bay Area, where office space goes for a premium cost.
The USGS is currently paying about $7.5 million a year for its Menlo Park space. With a 10-year lease on the facility set to expire late next year, USGS officials expect to see a significant rent increase if the agency remains there, Mr. Williams said.
"Like everyone else, we're dealing with the added costs for being in the Bay Area," he said. "We're hoping that relocating to the (NASA) campus will give us an opportunity to reduce those costs."
USGS officials say they've been discussing the move to Moffett Field with NASA officials over the last three years. No final lease agreement has been signed yet, but that should be finished in the next couple of months, Mr. Williams said. He emphasized that NASA officials have been very supportive of the plans.
Mr. Williams couldn't specify what the USGS would be paying for its new space, but he said it should be "significantly cheaper" than the agency's current Menlo Park rent.
He noted that relocating to the NASA campus would result in major opportunities to strengthen scientific collaboration between the two federal research agencies on projects such as studying Earth's gravity and atmosphere. Any money saved on rent will free up more funding for research, he said.
"I do want to emphasize we're not doing this solely for financial reasons; it's also for science," he said. "We need to strengthen our technology side and being near NASA will help that. We bring capabilities that complement theirs."
This isn't the first time the USGS has proposed moving out of Menlo Park, where it has been based since 1954. In late 1999, USGS administrators ordered the Menlo Park facility to close and relocate out of the Bay Area, but a groundswell of residents led by Rep. Anna Eshoo pressured the agency to scuttle those plans. The talk of relocating from Menlo Park at that time came just a few years after USGS had spent $42 million to construct its Middlefield Road building.
In recent years, the USGS has downsized its presence on the Menlo Park campus, and other federal agencies have leased out space there.
Moving out of the Menlo Park facility will cause some disruptions for the agency, Mr. Williams conceded. A variety of gear to monitor seismic effects will need to be reinstalled at Moffett Field without any lapse in measuring possible earthquake activity, he said.
Menlo Park reactions
Menlo Park officials say that they're sorry to see the USGS leave.
"Simply put, the USGS is a Menlo Park treasure," said Mayor Rich Cline. He hinted that the city might try to see if anything else could be done: "We plan to stay close and work with the GSA to determine if this decision is final," he said. "We want to keep the USGS if we can. We value the people and the organization that much."
"I was surprised to see they're leaving," said Menlo Park City Manager Alex McIntyre. "They're a big employer."
He said having a federal agency like the USGS and its scientists located in Menlo Park is good for the community, but understands if, due to market prices, the General Services Agency "really (needs) to get out of this expensive property."
Whether another federal agency would occupy the space, or the property would be sold is not yet known, he said.