Board OKs medical labs

Regents approved plans for a new building that will house neuroscience.

by Elena Rozwadowski

The Board of Regents Facilities Committee approved schematic plans for the first of five potential buildings for the University’s “new campus.”

The plans are for the medical biosciences building, which will house neuroscience and infectious disease laboratories. It is part of the East Gateway District, the area that will surround the TCF Bank Stadium.

The estimated cost of the building is $67.5 million, what Regent John Frobenius called a “new record for cost per square foot.”

Academic Health Center Vice President Frank Cerra said the reason for the high cost is the “highly specialized and expensive nature” of the lab space, largely because this type of research deals with organisms that need to be contained.

The five story building was designed to match existing and future buildings that occupy the area.

Frobenius’ concern was that the building would not have room to expand in the future and that it should perhaps be taller.

Cerra said the building was designed to meet the practical needs of the University.

“If you made it twice as big, it would take twice as long to build,” Cerra said. “The cost of that empty space would be very, very expensive.

“This is as much as we can handle,” he said.

Other considerations included international building codes, which discourage heavy laboratory space above the fourth floor of the building, said Kathleen O’Brien, vice president for University Services.

Construction will be complete in fall 2009, along with the TCF Bank Stadium. The committee also approved the $18.2 million capital budget amendment for the East Gateway District presented to the committee last month.

The Facilities Committee also green-lighted a request for $3.75 million renovation of the 11th floor of Moos Tower.

The renovation will update laboratory and office space that has not been touched since its construction in 1973.

Construction crews will completely demolish the interior construction of the floor, which currently houses the plastic surgery office. This will add 25 percent more research space and will rid the floor of existing hazardous materials.

The department of surgery committed to the project when it recruited a new chair and vice chair in May 2006 in order to encourage faculty recruitment.

Construction will be completed in fall 2007 and occupancy is scheduled for December.

Other business

The Academic Health Center was the focus of the board’s work session this month, a continuation of a presentation given to the board last June.

Medical school Dean Deborah Powell told the board that the Academic Health Center needs investments in clinical facilities, which are outdated and inadequate for medical students.

“You can destroy a lot of classroom learning in environments that we would not call exemplary,” Powell said. “We are recapitulating the medicine of the past instead of teaching the medicine of the future.”

Regents were concerned the AHC is not focusing enough on increasing class size.

Cerra said the number of medical graduates in Minnesota is not the issue, but rather distribution of certain types of physicians is the concern. This, he said, could be addressed with the updated facilities.

“We are at capacity by faculty and facilities for our current class size,” he said. “We’re going to have to enter into a new era of review and approval of our performance sites.”

Fairview president David Page updated the board on the progress of the regeneration of the children’s hospital and the Fairview-University partnership.

The Finance and Operations Committee Approved the full consent report, including the $4 million extension of the Driven to Discover campaign.

At today’s full-board meeting, University President Bob Bruininks will give a strategic positioning update and several University faculty members will present the six-year capital improvement plan.