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Sense of Place

The National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma

University Business, Aug 2007

COLLABORATION BETWEEN STUDENTS, RESEARCHERS, AND OPERA-tions personnel is critical to the scientific pipeline. When the work at hand involves fast moving storms, putting minds together can be life-or-death. The National Weather Center, located on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, provides integrated spaces that are technologically equipped for high-impact weather analysis.

- FUNCTION: Education, training, operations, and research space for OU's weather and climate programs and for various offices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

- PROBLEMS: Limited space for the university's renowned weather programs and for NOAA capped growth, while separate buildings for the university and government programs impeded collaboration. The movement to create a joint center began decades ago and was moved forward by top university administrators as well as higher-ups at NOAA, but funding sources did not fully emerge until after Oklahoma suffered the largest tornado outbreak of its history on May 3, 1999. The storm cells killed nearly 50 people, injured hundreds more, and wrecked homes and businesses across a swath of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas.

- SOLUTIONS: The 244,000-square-foot center, dubbed the "mecca of meteorology," provides five floors of offices, classrooms, labs, forecast centers, and instrument shops, and a rooftop outdoor classroom and enclosed weather observation deck. The steel, glass, and maple interior centers on an expansive atrium and staircase, while the entire building is constructed to withstand even the most powerful F-5 tornado. The building's collaborative spaces-including its Flying Cow Caf?-were designed to foster interaction. The center's Hazardous Weather Testbed (HWT) links the forecast office for central Oklahoma with the NOAA's national storm prediction center, and is large enough and technologically equipped to host a yearly gathering of experts who develop and analyze new methods for weather forecasting. Thanks to high bandwidth, the center is capable of handling high-resolution weather models that can be analyzed by experts. The HWT is just one example of how The National Weather Center will lead to improvements that are "accelerated more than they would have been if we [university programs and the NOAA] had still been separated," says Kevin Kelleher, deputy director for the National Severe Storms Laboratory, part of NOAA.

- COST: $69 million

- PROJECT TEAM: Beck-LAN/Daly, a joint venture of Beck Associates Architects of Oklahoma City and LAN/Daly, a national architectural and engineering firm. General contractor: Oscar J. Boldt Construction Co., with offices in the Midwest and California. Burns & MacDonnell of Kansas City assisted on NOAA program development, facility requirements and construction oversight. -Caryn Meyers Fliegler

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