Vet college seeking lab upgrades

The University is requesting $18M from the Legislature to repair decades-old facilities.

Jessie Bekker

Some of the College of Veterinary Medicine’s research facilities have needed repairs for more than a decade.

To help, the University of Minnesota is requesting $18 million from the state Legislature to replace facilities that the college’s researchers use to study diseases that infect large livestock across state farms.

The two existing veterinary isolation labs were built in 1958. Since then, parts of the buildings, like air conditioning systems, walls, windows and doors, have deteriorated to critical condition, according to the standards set by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.

CVM Dean Trevor Ames said the school has had things like air conditioning systems repaired over the years, but a decaying building that has only seen occasional patchwork isn’t ideal for conducting research.

If approved, the University will give the college an additional $9 million for the project, totaling $27 million toward new facilities.

Ames said he and the college’s former dean have been discussing the updates for 15 years.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said.

So far, the project outline does not include a breakdown of the allocation of funding, said Monique MacKenzie, the director of space and planning for University’s Capital Planning and Project Management.

CVM associate professor Montserrat Torremorell does research in the labs on infectious diseases in pigs. Without the repairs, her work could come to a halt.

The state’s farming industry relies on the work University researchers do to understand infectious diseases that affect their livestock and find cures for them.

“Those facilities are really central to what we do in terms of the research and in terms of benefiting the producers and Minnesota’s agriculture,” Torremorell said.

Right now, the walls between rooms in the facilities are structurally unsound and allow pathogens to travel from room to room.

The rooms in the current laboratories are too small, and animal enclosures are difficult to clean, Torremorell said.

The labs are forced to close their doors over the warm summer months because of a lack of proper air conditioning, Ames said, taking away three months that could be dedicated to research.

Without an upgrade, Ames said it will only get more difficult to attract veterinary faculty to the University who require up-to-date facilities to conduct research.

“Everything about it will be a vast improvement to what we have now,” he said.

Ames said if the buildings get the needed funding, researchers can help farmers prevent economic loss from dying livestock.

MacKenzie said the school does not expect a response from the Legislature until the end of the current session, but she hopes state officials
recognize the importance of an upgrade.

“It’s a very critical need that we have, and it’s for a purpose that is a benefit to the state of Minnesota,” she said.