Cleveland’s futuristic space center is modernizing its outdated spaces.

NASA Glenn Research Center is on a building binge to update its Brook Park and Perkins Township campuses as part of a multiyear master plan to replace or renovate its buildings, which are mostly mid-century structures.

The center opened a Research Support Building this past January at its headquarters, Lewis Field in Brook Park. Meanwhile, crews are raising an Aerospace Communications Facility at Lewis, due to open late this fall.

The two projects cost about $91 million and follow about $100 million worth of construction and renovation from 2009 to 2020. Those past projects include the 307-acre Lewis Field, next to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, and Glenn’s 6,740-acre Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility in Perkins Township, near Sandusky.

All of these projects precede another $180 million worth of proposed work at Glenn’s campuses over the next 10 years, pending approval from NASA leaders.

Officials say that the building boom reflects national confidence in Glenn, one of NASA’s 10 major centers.

The federal government’s investment in our new buildings, facility upgrades, and ongoing infrastructure improvements demonstrate the health of NASA’s Glenn Research Center and its strategic importance to fulfilling the agency’s mission and vision,” says Glenn’s news chief, Jan Wittry.

During its 81 years, Glenn has revved up global science and the local economy. It spent about $800 million during fiscal 2021. It employs about 1,500 civil servants and 1,700 contract workers.

Glenn tests airplanes, spaceships, and astronauts for government and industry in some of the world’ s biggest wind tunnels, vacuum chambers, and zero-gravity shafts. It plays key roles in the current Artemis mission—which aim to return astronauts to the moon and eventually take them to Mars.

The center holds 217 active patents. It has licensed 141 commercial spinoffs in the past 10 years. It has won 127 prestigious research and development (R&D) Awards, more than any other NASA center. It has even won an Emmy for improving radio technology.

But Glenn’s campuses hardly create the look of leaders of the space age. The campuses consist of many scattered buildings—mostly squat, mid-century, masonry structures with few windows—and Lewis is split by a lush, winding ravine.

NASA Glenn's Aerospace Communication Facility is under construction.


The master plan would reduce the campuses’ square footage from 3.5 million in 2008 to 2.3 million square feet in 2037. The goal is to bring workers together in contemporary, energy-efficient, time-efficient structures in better surroundings, including restored wetlands at Armstrong Test Facility and a restored outdoor gathering area at Glenn that will be renamed Wright Commons.

Namesakes Orville and Wilbur Wright, John Glenn, and Neil Armstrong were, of course, leaders in flight from Ohio. George Lewis was an exception: a leader at the headquarters of what’s now NASA.

The Research Support Building and Wright Commons anchor a hub that officials call downtown Glenn. “No matter where you work on campus, this is a home base to interact,” says architect Aaron Hill of Bialosky, who teamed with fellow architects Andrea Steele of New York and Enrique Norten of Mexico. Bialosky is best known for its designs of  Edgewater Beach House, the Van Aken District, and Cuyahoga Community College’s Metro Campus Center.

Like other workplaces, NASA Glenn has let many employees work at home during the pandemic. But the agency now expects most of them to be on campus most days.

By May, 70 workers had moved into the new 60,000-square-foot, two-story Research Support Building. More than 90 additional employees were expected to join them by year’s end.

Many other workers will stop by for hoteling, networking, and conferencing, dining, and more. The building houses the campus switchboard, cafeteria, credit union, exchange store, human services department, and high-tech workspaces of different sizes and kinds.

The facility features sleek glass and aluminum reminiscent of NASA’s aircrafts and spacecrafts. Natural light pours through big textured windows into two atriums and their surroundings. A new parking lot has bicycle racks and also spaces reserved for fuel-efficient vehicles. The building has won Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification for energy efficiency.


The second-story cafeteria overhangs Wright Commons and a patio with many tables. Across a campus road, a smaller building will be razed soon to restore the commons’ original size.

The overall Research Support project is expected to cost $44.1 million.
 
Meanwhile, crews broke ground in March on a $47 million project to unite workers from seven buildings in an Aerospace Communications Building, designed by Chicago-based Ross Barney Architects. In 54,000 square feet, scientists will work together on one of Glenn’s specialties—communications systems for space, with spinoffs for aviation, the military and industry.

Glenn’s upgrade, begun last decade, has featured a new Mission Integration Center adjoining Wright Commons and a renovated building at Armstrong now called the Space Environments Complex. Officials hope over the next 10 years to build facilities for space materials, structures, propulsion, and power at Lewis and two support buildings at Armstrong.

Read more articles by Grant Segall.

Grant Segall is a national-prizewinning journalist who spent 44 years at daily papers, mostly The Plain Dealer. He has freelanced for The Washington Post, Oxford University Press, Time, The Daily Beast, and many other outlets.