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March 5, 2015
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Thinking Locally, Acting Globally

Plan One/Architects’ work with the INL reverberates from Driggs to distant destinations

(page 1 of 2)

These days, discussions about Teton Valley’s economic future can take on a resigned tone. Plummeted property values, job scarcity, and struggling retail shops sometimes dominate the dialogue. How will this beautiful but isolated high-country basin ever attract new business and create new employment?
Should we go all-in for tourism? Maybe. Will another land rush come to the rescue? Perhaps. More likely, our community will need to think outside the box—and the valley—to create a sustainable economy less vulnerable to market volatility.

Throughout the recent boom and bust, one local firm, Plan One/Architects, quietly and successfully marketed itself throughout the region. They have set a forward-looking example for business people who seek a Teton-region quality of life but don’t want to sacrifice financial success. More recently, the architects of Plan One designed a major, cutting-edge facility that will be employed in solving some of humankind’s most daunting challenges. This in turn could bring an increasingly global economy one step closer to Teton Valley’s door, perhaps creating new and previously unconsidered opportunities.

Plan One

Plan One might not be a household name, but their work is familiar to most locals. The firm’s designs include the new Teton Middle School and Teton County Courthouse, as well as the distinctive U.S. Bank building in Driggs. Plan One is also behind renovations at  Teton Valley Hospital, Teton High School, and the Driggs City Center. Additionally, they are currently working with The Development Company, based in Rexburg, toward redesigning the former Ford dealership in Driggs as a commercial center.

Though a larger city might be a more convenient base of operations than Driggs, Plan One Vice President and architect Bob Heneage says they stay here because of the beauty, recreation, and open spaces. “We’re here because we want to live here,” Heneage says.

However, Plan One’s reach also extends across the West, with project locations ranging from Arizona to northern Idaho.

Heneage says Plan One was founded in the 1980s in Jackson, and moved to Driggs a decade ago. The firm, with seven local employees, also maintains offices in Cody and Rock Springs, Wyoming. Specializing in institutional and commercial design—with an extensive list of schools, hospitals, banks, and government offices in its portfolio—Plan One has worked on projects as large as the Wyoming State Penitentiary.

Energy-efficient green design is the goal of many Plan One projects, and a number of their buildings have been awarded prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. Because Plan One did not pursue work in the saturated second-home building market, they weathered the real estate bust fairly well.

“At the time the firm was in its major growth phase, no one else was doing major commercial [design],” Heneage explains.

Design/Build: Aiming High

Plan One has partnered with Idaho Falls-based Ormond Builders on a number of major projects, utilizing what is known in the industry as a “design/build” delivery system. By sharing responsibility, and closely integrating architectural and construction efforts, risk is minimized for the client, and completion time and cost are reduced. Heneage says Plan One and Ormond have together secured over $100 million worth of construction contracts using this approach.
Four years ago, they responded to a request for proposals from Battelle Energy Alliance, the primary contractor at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL), for a huge new lab facility in Idaho Falls. Developing a detailed conceptual design for a complex, $18 million facility was a gamble, given they would be bidding against big firms from Salt Lake City and Boise.

The risk paid off. The Plan One/Ormond bid was accepted for what will soon be INL’s Energy Systems Laboratory (ESL), an 87,000-square-foot facility devoted to developing new energy technologies. Subsequent to the ESL contract, the Plan One/Ormond partnership won the bid for an even larger INL project. The $48 million Research and Education Laboratory (REL) will enable collaboration among scientists and engineers from government, academia, and industry, and will complement research at the ESL and other ongoing projects at INL.

“These are probably the two biggest construction projects in East Idaho since the recession,” Heneage says.

INL’s Mission: EBR-1 to Alternative Energy

The Idaho National Laboratory, sprawling across 890 square miles of the Snake River Plain in East Idaho, is widely known as a nuclear facility. However, the emphasis of the lab’s scientific mission has evolved over the decades, pushed and pulled by geopolitical, resource, and environmental realities.

Established in 1949 on a former artillery range, the National Reactor Testing Station (as it was then known) was the site of the world’s first electricity-generating breeder reactor: EBR-1. As Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union escalated, the lab’s mission included the development of nuclear submarine propulsion systems. Events like the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor accident in 1979 led to an increased focus on nuclear waste cleanup and safety. The increasing scarcity of fossil fuels, as well as the threat of carbon-induced climate change, brought about more recent research into alternative energy technology.

Dr. David Miller, Director of Science and Engineering at INL, says that while the lab’s research emphasis has shifted over the years, its current mission has stabilized into three overlapping categories: nuclear energy research, national security, and energy and environment.

Ongoing nuclear work is aimed at creating safer and more efficient “next-generation” reactors, as well as improved radioactive fuel recycling and handling methods.

National Security efforts include cyber-security research, nuclear non-proliferation initiatives, and defense applications, such as the production of uranium-depleted armor for the Army’s M-1 Abrams tank.

Yet new energy and environment research may be the most groundbreaking of all, as it explores new ways to generate, store, and effectively implement a variety of energy sources on a large scale. The new, state-of-the-art labs designed by Plan One will be integral to this area of INL’s mission.

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