Two locations considered for magnet lab

The lab was located near the I-35W bridge, but closed after the collapse.

Researchers at the University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Applications in Magnetic Resonance are one step closer to finding a new home for their magnets.

The University’s Real Estate Office submitted two lease proposals to the Academic Health Center on Friday for the relocation of the Tandem Accelerator Laboratory, which housed three high-powered magnets used to conduct biomedical research.

The lab was located 50 feet west of where the Interstate 35W bridge fell, but researchers had to vacate the facility because of health and safety issues spurred by the collapse.

The lease proposals pertain to two possible properties where the lab could relocate, Sue Weinberg, director of the Real Estate Office, said. The first is in Minnetonka, the second in Golden Valley.

Both locations have a lot of space and high ceilings, Bruce Hammer, associate professor of radiology and director of CIA-MR, said.

The Golden Valley building is isolated, so the magnetic fields wouldn’t affect surrounding buildings, Hammer said. The Minnetonka facility is located in a “tech park,” with biomedical companies the lab could contract with.

Both properties are technically appropriate for the lab, but their locations would make it more difficult for students and faculty to work there, he said.

“The reality is, if I don’t move off campus I won’t have anything, period,” Hammer said. “I’m between a rock and a hard place.”

The AHC is currently reviewing the proposals and negotiating with the properties’ landlords, Terry Bock, associate vice president of AHC, said.

Although a deadline for deciding on the leases is not set, the University’s Medical School and AHC hope to make a decision shortly, Bock said.

Hammer said he had to negotiate with the University’s administration for two and a half months to get them to agree to start searching for off-campus space.

“They are operating like a very large bureaucracy where it’s just very difficult to navigate,” Hammer said.

Bock said he understands such frustration, but the specialized space the lab requires is difficult to find.

“It’s very hard, just very hard,” Bock said.

Companies like Medtronic have contracts to use the lab’s magnets to conduct research.

Such research has been stagnant for the past four months because of the inability to find a new facility to house the magnets, Hammer said. The magnets have been stored in a warehouse since the lab closed.

Medtronic spokesman Chuck Grothaus said Medtronic wasn’t conducting research when the bridge collapsed.

Although CIA-MR hasn’t lost any contracts, Hammer said “patience is wearing thin” and biomedical companies can only wait so long while the lab isn’t operational.

“There’s a good chance I may lose some of the contracts,” Hammer said. “The business realities are going to force them to take the business elsewhere if things aren’t resolved quickly.”

Bock said AHC has been working as fast as it can to find alternative space.

“Researchers want to keep on doing research and we want them to do that too,” Bock said. “Bridges falling down don’t happen every day.”

Beth Lusczek, a University graduate student who researches in the lab, said Hammer diverted her to a different area of research until the lab is relocated.

Lusczek was conducting research in the lab for her thesis. Now her graduation date is pushed back because her research progress will be delayed several months, she said.

“Just sitting around waiting and not being able to make progress has been really frustrating,” Lusczek said. “Grad school is hard enough without a setback like this.”

The University needs to realize finding a new location for the lab is a “win-win” situation, Hammer said.

“It will only benefit the University in the end, much more than me,” Hammer said. “It would just be a shame to squander the resources and infrastructure that was built up over the 17 most productive years of my life.”