Last month, the College sold 28 acres of land lying beneath the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory on Lyme Road in Hanover for $18.6 million as part of a “mutually beneficial” deal that ensures that Dartmouth’s focus is on its strategic priorities, according to Director of Media Relations Justin Anderson. The land was sold to the Army Corps of Engineers, which has operated the lab since 1961.
CRREL was originally built on land leased from the College for $1 per year, according to Thayer School of Engineering professor Mary Albert, a 30-year employee of the laboratory. Following the lease’s expiration in 2009, the U.S. Army and the College entered into negotiations to agree on a sale price, according to Anderson.
The economic downturn of 2008 “hit Dartmouth very hard” and forced the College to reconsider its lease agreement with the Army, Albert said.
The Army then decided to buy the land outright rather than continuing to lease it.
“The process was prolonged because [the sale] required a Congressional act of approval,” Anderson said. “Congress had to essentially bless’ the deal.”
Congressional backing came earlier this year, and the sale was completed on March 13, Anderson said.
The Army Corps of Engineers consolidated two existing Arctic research laboratories in Illinois and Boston in 1955 and then began the search for a new location to construct a central research center, according to Albert. Former College President John Sloan Dickey ’29 lobbied for the Corps to construct the laboratory in Hanover because he believed that Dartmouth and the Corps shared a “mutual interest” in cold regions, Albert said.
Congress approved the construction of the center in 1959, and CRREL opened its doors two years later, Albert said.
During the Cold War, the government aimed to increase its knowledge and understanding of cold regions to prepare for the possibility of a Soviet attack from the Arctic region, Albert said. CRREL was tasked with understanding the unique environment and challenges of the Arctic to prepare for the possibility of fighting a war in the region, he said.
“CRREL researchers developed a whole way of engineering roads in cold regions,” Albert said. “Not just anyone could do that.”
CRREL researchers drilled the world’s first ice core, which is used to study past climates, and they engineered roads along the Alaska oil pipeline, according to Albert. The laboratory was fully funded by the Army during the Cold War.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Army no longer perceived an Arctic attack as a threat, and CRREL began to diversify and seek other sources of funding. In 1998, CRREL merged with other Corps research and development labs now located in Mississippi, Albert said.
Although some cold regions research continues, CRREL now focuses mostly on engineering solutions for “hot and dusty” regions such as the Middle East to aid the current objectives of the Army, according to Albert.
The College and CRREL maintain a relationship to this day, according to Albert and Anderson. Students and faculty from the College, particularly the Thayer School, have worked with researchers in the past on various projects, according to Albert.
Funds from the sale will benefit the College, but their exact use is undecided, Anderson said. The money will not fund ongoing renovations at the Hanover Inn, however.
The change in ownership of the land underneath CRREL will not affect the relationship between Dartmouth and the Corps, Albert and Anderson said.
“As the only government lab focused on snow, ice and cold issues, CRREL had a very important position in advising the government,” Albert said. “I think CRREL and Dartmouth will continue to collaborate.”