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Sanford Lab highlights recent facility upgrades and improvements

Sanford Underground Research Facility houses cutting-edge science experiments. Here are some of the upgrades to the laboratory they call home.
an overview of the Yates Campus

A facility is only as strong as the infrastructure that supports it. In 2007, an immense effort was undertaken to transform a former gold mine into a cutting-edge research laboratory. Today, the Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab) houses world-leading science experiments in particle and astrophysics, geology, biology and engineering.

Still, the work continues. The ongoing work of the Facility Infrastructure Team ensures that science at Sanford Lab will continue far into the future. This article showcases recent upgrades and improvements to the laboratory we call home.

“Thankfully, we have been able to do some upgrades and additions recently that have greatly improved the support of science, as well as education and outreach efforts, with improved equipment and facilities,” said Dan Regan, Sanford Lab surface operations foreman. Regan’s team undertook these improvements.

“I’m so proud to see the facility improvements coming to fruition at Sanford Lab and the hard work our team is putting into completing these projects successfully,” said Mike Headley, executive director of Sanford Lab. “The SDSTA is grateful to the Department of Energy and our Congressional Delegation for the strong federal funding support that makes these projects possible.”

walkway under construction

Welcome to the lab

A new, wider walkway welcomes employees and guests to the Administration Building, where the team also installed new window shades and safety features like secondary handrails and a new stairwell.

large conference room with lights above

Lights on

The team undertook lighting upgrades in most occupied facilities, swapping out former lighting systems for energy-efficient LED fixtures.

air conditioning units next to a brick building

Keeping cool

The team replaced air conditioning systems in the 4850 Level Refuge Chamber, installing systems with increased capacity. Similar changes were made on the surface in the IT Network Room, where large computer systems buzz and warm the air, and the Education and Outreach Building.

three boilers

Staying warm

In the Ross Hoistroom, former boilers were replaced with more efficient boilers, capable of working at a much higher capacity. The Ross Dry shower fixtures were replaced, and water heaters have a new heat circulation pump. Hot water boilers were installed for the Yates Ramp locker rooms.

a pickup truck

Getting around

Several rough terrain vehicles are also used on the surface for utility and transportation. Crews use vehicles outfitted for the South Dakota elements—vehicles with snow tracks and snow tires and utility vehicles with sander, plow, brush, forks and bucket attachments. A new gasoline fueling station was installed at the Yates Sawmill.

Erin Broberg reverses a motor and car underground.

Getting around underground

Underground, rail transportation received an upgrade with three rebuilt chassis, new batteries and new battery chargers. Some underground areas are not accessible by rail. Those who need to access such areas to inspect the conditions and ensure proper ventilation throughout the facility, can now use “off-roading” rough terrain vehicles.

A brick building with pine wood segments

Hoistroom improvements

Clouded plexiglass once blurred the view from the Ross Hoistroom. Now, tempered glass allows hoist operators to clearly observe the ropes traveling to and from the Ross Headframe. At the Yates Hoistroom, crews replaced the walls that support heavy rubber openings that allow the cage hoist rope to pass outside and up to the Yates Headframe. 

This photo demonstrates the before and after of the wall replacements.

closeup of two hands handing a cylindrical piece of core

Supporting other projects

Before its demolition, crews cleaned out the Maintenance Support Facility, moving more than 200 pallets of core from the Homestake Mining Company and storing it at the Ellison Drill Shop.  

The old shop buildings will be replaced by a new Maintenance Support Facility, a 25,000-square-foot structure that will provide shop space for maintenance activities, a warehouse, offices and meeting spaces. Funding for the project was provided by the State of South Dakota. 

“We are very grateful to Gov. Kristi Noem and former Gov. Dennis Daugaard for their strong financial support of this project and the important work that is being done at Sanford Lab,” Headley said.

transparent screens enclose an office space

COVID-19 enhancements

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, crews also installed safety screens at key locations to allow workers to interact safely. The facility infrastructure team continues to provide inventory and warehouse tracking for essential PPE, including facemasks, gloves and respirators.

two rows of bright green shirts

Safety improvements

Teams have been outfitted in high visibility workwear to ensure all workers are safe throughout their shifts in the field.

sky view of the waste water treatment plant

Weather station

Sanford Lab is an official reporter of weather for the National Weather Service (NWS). At the Waste Water Treatment Plant and Administration Building, weather stations were installed and feed into the NWS’s weather gathering systems, providing information about rain and moisture levels in the area.

a man operates a bobcat

Engaging a community workforce

Completing these upgrades required significant support from departments across Sanford Lab, Regan said, as well as the efforts of many local contractors.

“These changes did not come about without the assistance and leadership of the entire Sanford Lab team. It has required the involvement and support of executives, managers, finance, contracts, purchasing, information services, engineering, of all the operations teams and with multiple contractors, vendors and suppliers,” Regan said.

Local Contractors

Hours of contractor work last year

photo of construction with Yates Headframe in the background

Tracking our progress

Teams at Sanford Lab use software to track and manage all assets, tasks and activities.

“The software coordinators have made giant strides in its functions and increased its use,” Regan said.

A scrolling screen in the Administration Building displays ongoing projects, reminding those who pass that work is always underway.

“We still have a long way to go, but we have made and are making some real positive changes that will help set up the Sanford Lab for long term success,” Regan said.