Officials with the U.S. Geological Survey say they intend to shut down their West Coast science center in Menlo Park over the coming years and plan to relocate to 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 -- approximately one-third of its Menlo Park staff -- moving to Mountain View.
The full transition is expected to take up to five years, and involves moving the office's full workforce to Mountain View, along with an array of complex scientific gear installed at the Menlo Park center.
The reason behind the move is primarily financial, said Colin Williams, a USGS science center director who is part of the transition team. The USGS campus off 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 Bay Area locales where office space goes for a premium.
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 they remain, 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 their counterparts at NASA over the last three years. No final lease agreement has been signed yet, but that should be finished in the next couple months, Williams said. He emphasized that NASA officials have been very supportive of the plans.
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 campus. He pointed out that relocating to the NASA campus would bring huge opportunities to strengthen scientific collaboration between the two federal research arms 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 is not the first time 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 opposition from residents, led by Rep. Anna Eshoo, pressured the agency to scuttle those plans. Ironically, the talk of relocating from Menlo Park came just a few years after USGS had spent $42 million on its Middlefield Road building. In recent years, the USGS has downsized its presence at the Menlo Park campus, and a variety of other federal agencies have leased out space there.
Moving out of the Menlo Park facility will cause some disruptions for the agency, Williams conceded. Gear to monitor seismic activity will need to be reinstalled at Moffett Field without any lapse in measuring possible earthquake activity, he said.