Breaking News: I wore a suit at work on Friday. I don’t think I had even worn a tie to work since leaving the navy. (I think most people who work in similar lab situations would agree that fancy clothes tend to interfere with real work getting done.) The party that got me all spiffed up? USNO Dedicates New Master Clock facility (pdf press release) It was actually a dual celebration for a couple of us, since not only were we dedicating the new building, we were acknowledging the delivery of two of our fountain clocks, which were recently moved in, and I worked on both projects.
I started on the building more than four years ago, and I was actually a little late to the party. The original concept dates back to the early 90s, when Senator Byrd proposed a clock facility in West Virginia, but that idea got shot down when Senator Proxmire put it on his “Golden Fleece” list, showing that governmental inability to assess the merit of science and technology is not a new phenomenon. My involvement came after funding was approved and the preliminary design detail was being worked on. I was asked to fill in for someone who was going to be out of town, and was handed a list of changes items under discussion, and a two-inch thick draft of the request for proposals (RFP) that outlined the specs for the building, two days before the meeting. I muddled through that and didn’t embarrass myself at the meeting (but didn’t contribute a whole lot, either), and since the situation was likely to come up again — and it did, several times — I insisted on continuing to attend meetings to stay in the loop. (The draft RFP had obviously been cut-and-pasted from other documents, since the early version included a requirement for the site supervisor to speak fluent Italian, and that all deliveries be coordinated with the harbormaster at Pearl. It was a bit of work getting it straight.)
The preliminary design work involved getting our specs translated from scientist/engineering terminology into architecture and construction-speak. Then the RFP went out, and companies bid on the project. Even though it was apparent that the budget was tight, we were able to find one company that would do it, after some negotiations to trim a few items from the project. The novel nature of the building’s requirements, including
elaborate environmental control system to keep the clocks in strictly regimented temperature and humidity conditions. The building’s temperature will be regulated to +/- 0.1°C and its humidity will be controlled to within a 3% tolerance
Along with some other requirements this meant that this wasn’t just an office building, which was something that had to occasionally be pointed out. But we had a pretty good relationship with the contractors, and despite a few bumps and rough spots, we eventually got it done. It just took more time than we anticipated, both with the scrutiny we had to place on the day-to-day construction, and how long the fine-tuning would take.
Since the pressure and discomfort of such an event wasn’t enough, the mom came down for the ceremony, to add the requisite parental scrutiny. The Vice President made an appearance for a photo-op with the bigwigs. The main speaker for the dedication was the Honorable John G. Grimes, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration /Chief Information Officer, with whom I got a chance to speak. I’m not used to rubbing elbows with the top brass like that, but he stuck around quite a while, asking questions and talking with people.
Happily, I’ve now forgotten everything about the details of how to build a building, or the details of our new clock facility, so there is no need for anyone to come to me and ask about it. If someone wants me to weigh in on an issue related to it, I’ll finally get to shrug my shoulders and say, “I dunno.”