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DARPA Officially Opens New Facility in Ballston

Local, state and federal officials say they worked for years to keep the agency that gave the world the Internet in Arlington.

The government agency that gave birth to the Internet, unmanned drones and stealth technology officially settled in to its new location Tuesday at 675 N. Randolph St., just east of Ballston Common Mall.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is essentially the brain of the Department of Defense. It had been located near Arlington Central Library, but area representatives have worried it would leave Arlington — a community already coming to grips with the loss of an estimated 20,000 jobs as part of the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process.

“Every community in the country wanted DARPA,” U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., told Patch. “…It was politics and policy that enabled us to keep it here.”

Arlington did more than keep it. The public and private sector advocates working on the project fully integrated it into the Ballston neighborhood.

The $86 million, 13-story building includes more than 300,000 square feet. It is expected to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum designation. And it features a secure conference center, a controlled parking garage and outdoor amenities that blend seamlessly into the surrounding community.

“It’s fair to say that nobody got hit harder by BRAC than Arlington County,” Arlington County Board Chairwoman Mary Hynes said at the opening ceremony. “But our leadership at the time said what’s most important is to hold on to DARPA. DARPA is the center of the wonderful knowledge economy that’s become part of our identity.”

The site at 675 N. Randolph St. is a brownfield, or abandoned site, that has been transformed through federal and other funding. Hynes pointed out that longtime residents of nearby neighborhoods like Ashton Heights and Buckingham had to compromise the vision they had for the area, but she said they did so out of service to the work DARPA does and its importance to the country and economy.

Hynes pointed out the green lawns, trees, sidewalks, benches and other amenities that make the DARPA campus interact with the community. Later, she said it doesn’t have the “no-people zone” feeling found at many government facilities.

“This is what we need to show the rest of the country,” Hynes told a room full of dignitaries. “Because scientists stuck at the end of subway lines or out in the middle of nowhere don’t have the same experience as scientists who are in a living place where other people also work.”

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States, the Department of Defense implemented a new series of anti-terrorism standards. The decision was made to move DARPA into a new building that met those standards. Moran said those standards range from the building being a specific number of feet back from the sidewalk to making the entire building “bomb-proof.”

Kaigham J. Gabriel, acting director of DARPA, said the move had been planned for about seven years. He said more than 1,100 people have been moved into the new building, with “hundreds more” to follow. More than 4,500 packing crates will be moved to the new site. And more than 38 tons of paper was shredded while packing up the old location, he said.

“While our time in the old building is finished, the agency’s work continues. And we have a fresh start,” Gabriel said. “Let’s make it count.”

Construction at 675 N. Randolph St. began in January 2009. John Shooshan, president and CEO of the Shooshan Co., estimated construction affected 10,000 jobs, from construction to materials.

Shooshan called completion of the new DARPA facility “a blessing.”

“When you think about the people who come to work here every day, they’re the best and the brightest,” Shooshan told Patch. “It’s a dream come true.”

The Shooshan Co. leases the building to the General Services Administration. It is administered by Washington Headquarters Services.

DARPA is the kind of anchor tenant that draws everything from hotels to cutting-edge research firms to a community, Moran said. Work in Richmond to keep the agency in Arlington spanned the administration of three governors and at least two generations of state senators.

“DARPA is basically one of the key sources of innovation for the Department of Defense. This is not a lab. But we reach out to creative people all over the country — bringing people together, funding projects at universities,” said Norman Whitaker, deputy director for the agency’s Information Innovation Office.

“We didn’t know back then what the next Internet would be. But we’ve got a lot of things going.”

DARPA began as a reaction to Sputnik, he said. Its mission is to make sure national security isn’t jeopardized by “technological surprise.”

One area the agency is currently breaking ground in is prosthetics — and giving people the ability to move artificial limbs with just their thoughts, he said.

“People come here with a vision,” he said. “And they see it through.”

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