Last week, the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority dedicated the Rounds Operations Center to honor former governor and current U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds for his efforts to bring Sanford Underground Research Facility to Lead.
Friday's dedication was followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a picnic luncheon for staff and guests.
Rounds, who was governor of South Dakota when efforts ramped up to secure the Homestake Gold Mine as a future underground research laboratory, thanked the SDSTA for the recognition and pointed to the partnerships that made the creation of SURF possible.
“The joy of discovery is not something we get when we do things alone. You get it when you do things with other people,” Rounds said Friday. “This undertaking brought together the scientific community, political community, engineering community and technological community. In the end, it took people who want to get things done, setting their differences aside and working together.”
Casey Peterson, chairperson of the SDSTA board of directors, said it was a daunting task to obtain the property and turn a mile-deep wet hole into a world-class science facility.
“Our honored guest (Rounds) shone through all of this," Peterson said. "He told us not to give up; he supported us. His relationships with the science community and understanding of the state legislature made this happen.”
In the early 2000s, negotiations were underway to turn the former Homestake Gold Mine in Lead into an underground research laboratory. The venture would require a large investment and many risks. Rounds was determined to bring a world-leading research laboratory to South Dakota. In 2006, Rounds and the South Dakota Legislature took a bold step, appropriating $45.5 million dollars toward the project.
That initial investment helped secure $70 million from philanthropist T. Denny Sanford and a land donation from Barrick Gold Corporation. A $10 million HUD grant secured by then-U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson provided some of the initial funding for the transition of the Homestake Mine and SURF was born. SURF is managed by the SDSTA.
Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, who also attended Friday's ceremony, discussed the enthusiasm around the idea of an underground research facility in South Dakota.
“Rounds understood the impact a facility like this would have on the state of South Dakota and on the future of science and technology,” Rhoden said.
Kevin Lesko, senior scientist at Berkeley Lab and an early advocate of the creation of SURF, said the early years were challenging.
“I remember meeting with Gov. Rounds early on in his office and telling him that this was not going to be easy. But the support, community and faith we had from the state of South Dakota convinced me that this was the place to do it,” Lesko said
The 26,000-square-foot facility serves as the hub for SURF operations activities and includes the maintenance shop, a central warehouse facility, and office space for operations and engineering staff. The $6.5 million needed to build the facility was provided by former Gov. Dennis Daugaard and current Gov. Kristi Noem across two future fund grants.
“The leadership of former Gov. Daugaard and current Gov. Noem allowed us to reach this milestone. We are grateful for their support over the years,” said Mike Headley, executive director of the SDSTA and lab director for SURF.
The ROC provides SURF staff with the facility and tools needed to safely operate and maintain the deepest underground science facility in the United States — and one of the leading underground science laboratories in the world.
“Creating a world-class research facility requires an incredible amount of work and endless persistence on the part of many dedicated people,” Headley said. “We are grateful to Sen. Rounds for his visionary leadership in making SURF ‘the next big thing’ in South Dakota and for so many others who continue to support our efforts.”