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Connie Walter

The Homestake Visitor Center sits at the edge of a Black Hills landmark: the Open Cut, an inactive mine pit that measures 1,000 feet wide and 900 feet deep. It draws more than 40,000 visitors a year to Lead, S.D. In spring 2014 the facility will be demolished to make way for the Sanford Lab-Homestake Visitor Center, an 8,000 square-foot building that will tell the story of a western mining town and its transformation into a center for advanced research.

?This facility will advance our partnership with the Lead Chamber and Visitor Center and expand our education and outreach programs,? said Mike Headley, Executive Director of Sanford Lab. ?We?re excited to support the Visitor Center in telling the story of Lead?s history and the science of the of Sanford Lab to the general public, educators, and students.?  

At the core of the new Visitor Center is the Sanford Science Education Center, a partnership between the Lab, the Lead Chamber of Commerce/Homestake Visitor Center and Black Hills State University.  The Education Center will draw on the science and engineering at Sanford Lab and the exceptional education programs at BHSU to develop learning experiences for many audiences from kindergarten students to retirees, said Ben Sayler, Director of Education and Outreach for the Lab and a professor at BHSU.

It also aligns perfectly with the new trend in tourism, said Chamber Director Melissa Johnson. ?People want more from a vacation than sight-seeing,? she said. ?They want an educational experience. Lead?s rich history and the science going on at the Lab make it a perfect education destination.?

And there?s a lot to learn.

For more than 100 years, Lead was a mining town that attracted people from all walks of life and from all parts of the globe, all of whom helped shape the culture and economy of Lead. In the mid-1960s, when gold production reached its zenith, Ray Davis, a nuclear chemist from Brookhaven Lab, with the help of Homestake Mining Company, installed a neutrino detector a mile underground. Homestake?s vision and Davis?s revolutionary research, which spanned two decades, earned him a Nobel Prize for Physics and opened the door to future experiments deep beneath the earth.

Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab) grew out of Davis?s work and today hosts two major experiments at the 4850 Level of the former Homestake Mine: the Larger Underground Xenon (LUX) dark matter detector, which is located in the same area excavated for Davis; and the Majorana Demonstrator experiment, which will explore the properties of neutrinos. Other experiments, including the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE), are in the planning stages as well.

The new Visitor Center will include 3,000 square feet of exhibit space in which to tell Lead?s story: the discovery of gold in 1876, the history of mining and Barrick-Homestake?s stewardship of the land, the ethnic groups who came to Lead to work in the mine, the effect the gold rush had on Native peoples, and, of course, the history of Sanford Lab?s world-class science.  But it?s not nearly enough space, Johnson said. For that reason, the Visitor Center will partner with other facilities.

?If someone wants more depth on the history of mining, we can send them to the Mining Museum in Lead. If they want to know more about the cultural history of the area, they can go to the Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center in Deadwood. It?s a great opportunity to build relationships with other groups and museums,? Johnson said.

It was the combined vision and commitment of the State of South Dakota and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford that brought world-class science and researchers to Sanford Lab, said Lab Director Mike Headley. That same vision is instrumental in building the new Sanford Lab-Homestake Visitor Center.

Construction on the $4.5 million Visitor Center will begin in spring 2014 with a completion date of June 1, 2015. It includes offices for the Lead Chamber, flexible classroom space, and retail and exhibit areas. In addition to serving as an education hub, the Center will be used for a variety of community events. Sanford Lab will pay for the building, while an additional $1 million of private funding will be used for the exhibits. Upon completion, the Lead Chamber own and manage the Visitor Center. ?This really speaks to the level of commitment the Lab has to the city of Lead,? Johnson said.

The building, designed by architect, Steve Dangermond of Dangermond/Keane in Oregon, has a very modern, almost futuristic look, said Josh Willhite, Director of Engineering at Sanford Lab and project manager for the new Visitor Center.

But there?s a good reason for that, Willhite said.  ?Our roots are in mining, but our future is in science. We want the design of the building and the exhibits to convey that. I believe they will.?

Notes on the Building:

Architect: Dangermond/Keane Architects, Oregon

Mechanical and Electrical: Skyline Engineering, Rapid City

Structural: Albertson Engineering, Rapid City

Civil: Ferber Engineering, Rapid City

Construction Management: Ainsworth-Benning, Spearfish

Demolition of existing building: Spring 2014

Completion of Visitor Center: June 1, 2015