PENNSYLVANIA'S #1 WEEKLY NEWSPAPER • locally owned since 1854

For sale: TMI heirloom, $2.2 million price tag — training center on market, with 43,000 square feet

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 3/24/20

You can own a piece of history. Or a building with a lot of classrooms lending itself to an educational or training purpose.

The Three Mile Island training center on Route 441 in Londonderry …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

For sale: TMI heirloom, $2.2 million price tag — training center on market, with 43,000 square feet

Posted

You can own a piece of history. Or a building with a lot of classrooms lending itself to an educational or training purpose.

The Three Mile Island training center on Route 441 in Londonderry Township, across the road from the nuclear power plant, is for sale.

The property includes the training center, which is two 20,000-square-foot buildings connected by a hallway; and a 3,000-square foot building in front which includes a conference room, kitchenette and an observation area.

It’s just more than 43,000 square feet of building in all, said Kevin Hodge, a brokerage adviser with ROCK Commercial Real Estate LLC, which is handling the transaction.

The buildings sit on three parcels totaling 6.17 acres, with 238 parking spaces. 

Asking price? $2.2 million.

“To build that, you couldn’t touch it for $2.2 million,” Hodge said.

Many township residents and other people curious about the plant are familiar with the buildings because it’s where TMI held its annual open house for many years. One of the buildings also contains a mock control room that mirrors what is in the plant itself. It was used for training.

“The Three Mile Island Unit 1 Training Center is no longer required for decommissioning and has been listed for sale through a third-party realtor. We are currently gauging industry interest in the control room equipment in the simulator,” Exelon spokesman David Marcheskie told the Press & Journal.

Some kind of lease-to-purchase deal could be considered, Hodge said, but the long-term goal of owners Exelon is to sell the property.

Marcheskie said the center “pretty much closed” after Exelon shut down the Unit 1 reactor of TMI in September. Unit 2 has been shut down since the most significant nuclear accident in U.S. history occurred in March 1979.

Hodge said word of the property being for sale hasn’t really gotten out yet. The for-sale sign was just put up a few days ago.

The property is zoned for agricultural use. Coordination with Londonderry Township would be “critical” in terms of a new user being able to find a productive new use for the buildings, Hodge said.

The property has a number of advantages for adaptive re-use, as he sees it.

“It’s got a lot of power,” Hodge said, meaning the electrical service coming into the building is “more than your average.” There’s an electrical substation right next door.

That could be a consideration for someone who has a lot of sensitive equipment, such as for information technology, where climate control is important, Hodge said.

“It was set up with a ton of classrooms in it because of all the time that employees spent in there training,” Hodge said. That, combined with all the parking, could make the property ideal for an educational trade school, or even a call center.

The training center has “a lot of flexibility inside,” Hodge said, meaning it wouldn’t be difficult to gut out the classrooms because there aren’t a lot of columns and interior steel structure.

What about some kind of a tourist attraction or even a museum, dedicated to the role TMI and the 1979 accident played in the nuclear power industry in the United States?

Nobody has proposed that yet, but as Hodge pointed out, it’s early.

Watchdog group a potential buyer?

Exelon already has one potential buyer for part of the training center complex — the monitoring and educational arm of the activist group Three Mile Island Alert.

EFMR Monitoring Group would be interested in acquiring the observation center to use it as an educational tool, said Eric Epstein, chairman of TMI-Alert.

“It would be ideal if they would be willing to subdivide,” Epstein said.

He said that EFMR had made an offer to buy the old visitors center, but that offer was rejected.

There are other implications regarding selling the property that Epstein is concerned about.

The property includes a terrestrial garden that Epstein said has “vital radiological monitoring equipment” that, according to Epstein, Exelon is required to maintain as a condition of its license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The site has historical significance, given the markers commemorating the 1979 accident as well as two cherry tree orchards that were donated by the Japanese after the accident, Epstein said. 

He’s also concerned over what the sale bodes for the control room simulator.

“The simulator is the cornerstone training tool for lessons learned after the accident at TMI,” Epstein said. “You can’t simply sell a vital training tool on eBay. There are obvious security questions attached to the equipment.”

The simulator should be transferred or sold to the Nuclear Energy Institute, or to the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, Epstein said.

Last but not least, consideration must be given to the center being across the street from two reactors that have yet to be decommissioned.

“This is not a routine real estate transaction,” Epstein said.

The former visitors center was built in the early 1970s as TMI itself was under construction. People could go up on a balcony to watch the nuclear plant being built.

The observation center became a command center for GPU Nuclear during the 1979 accident.

The training center was added in the early 1980s.

Longtime Middletown Mayor Robert Reid was in office in 1979 when the most significant nuclear disaster in U.S. history took place. Reid gained worldwide acclaim for his handling of the crisis. 

Reid said TMI owners at the time, GPU Nuclear, asked him to work at the center on weekends, “to welcome visitors and explain what was across the river.” Reid was also a teacher at Middletown Area School District.

Reid didn’t take the job, but a colleague of his in the district, English teacher Bill Gross, did. 

The gig worked out so well for Gross that he eventually resigned from the school district for a full-time job with TMI, Reid said.

In his opinion, the training center should be torn down, unless it could be used by another nuclear plant operator to train its people.

Otherwise, “it has no use for anything. Six acres — that would be good land for housing.”