Biomedical buildings may be combined

A proposal would merge three of the planned buildings into one $200.3M building.

Tara Bannow

A new, scaled-back proposal for the $292 million Biomedical Discovery District would amass three buildings into one and use the money saved for building renovations. Rather than housing cancer, cardiovascular and infectious disease research in three separate buildings as originally planned, the new outline creates a $200.3 million facility that would house all of them. âÄúWeâÄôre recognizing the financial condition weâÄôre in, spending the $292 million and trying to get more bang for the buck,âÄù Chief Financial Officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said. The $38.5 million that would no longer be used for construction would go toward renovating and maintaining existing laboratory space. A $53.2 million expansion on the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research began in fall 2009. A comprehensive space utilization study is in progress to determine where the money could be best utilized, said Frank Cerra, dean of the Medical School and senior vice president for health sciences of the Academic Health Center. The entire project is estimated to cost the University $109 million from fiscal year 2011 through fiscal year 2019, according to the new proposal. Of that, $40 million would be for startup costs, $18 million for facility operations and overhead and another $51 million would be spent on programs and faculty. Even with the $31 million in grants the University is expected to receive, it will need to find funding for about $78 million. âÄúThatâÄôs a daunting number, particularly in this fiscal environment,âÄù Pfutzenreuter said, adding that itâÄôs best viewed in incremental chunks, as thatâÄôs how it is addressed in the annual budgeting process. The University will likely look to the state for additional funding to close the gap, Pfutzenreuter said. Regent Steven Hunter expressed concern about finding the money for the new facilities. âÄúI donâÄôt think state funds are going to be there in the foreseeable future,âÄù he said, adding, âÄúI want to move forward, but I hope we have further discussion about how weâÄôre going to fund this.âÄù The new plan comes after much consideration about staffing, space and budget and plans for several years down the road with a âÄúhigh degree of accuracy in the assumptions,âÄù Cerra said. Housing the separate specialties together is a more efficient and effective way of doing research, as it allows for collaboration, Cerra said. âÄúThatâÄôs the name of the game in interdisciplinary research, is you take disciplines, put them in the same proximity to solve problems and the productivity soars,âÄù he said. If approved by the regents, the proposed 280,000 square-foot building would begin construction in fall 2010. It would house biological and chemical laboratories, faculty and staff office and shared laboratory space and equipment. Over a five-year period, 40 new faculty principal investigators would be hired to work in the Center for Magnetic Resonance Research and the Cancer/Cardiovascular facility, according to the plan. In addition, 40 existing faculty members would be relocated to the new buildings. The state Legislature approved the original plan for the district as part of the 2008 Omnibus Capital Appropriations bill. The state will pay 75 percent of the capital costs and the University will pay the remaining 25 percent. The districtâÄôs most recent addition, the $79.3 million Medical Biosciences Building, was completed in December 2009. The updated plan was presented to the Board of Regents on March 11 and will be followed by more informational discussions before a decision is made. âÄúWhen this program was envisioned in 2008, none of us thought the world economy would turn as south as it did,âÄù Pfutzenreuter said. âÄúThe University still remains committed to these projects, but weâÄôve altered our thinking somewhat about them.âÄù