ISU shrinks laboratory plans to match state funding

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Iowa State University officials plan to build a new $75 million veterinary diagnostic laboratory, reduced from a $124 million plan.

The prior plan would have included renovations to the existing Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Starting in fall 2017, university officials sought $100 million in state funding toward the project and $20 million in donations, with the remaining $4 million coming from university funds, according to articles in Inside Iowa State, a university publication for faculty and staff. The university opened the current diagnostic laboratory in 1976 within the College of Veterinary Medicine building and updated it with a biosecurity addition in 2004.

Iowa's legislators voted to spend only $63.5 million, and university officials announced in September that the Board of Regents had approved planning for a $75 million laboratory instead.

Dr. Rodger Main, director of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, said that, in the original proposal, the university would have spent $106 million on the new building and the rest on renovations. The building would have had a 150,000-square-foot footprint and about 83,000 square feet of rooms and other useable space, up from about 63,000 today. He said the planners for the new laboratory will need to decide what they can buy with $75 million and which functions will fit into the new building versus staying in the old space.

Dr. Main said the laboratory's functions have grown as agriculture has changed, and employment in the laboratory has expanded from 10 faculty members and 20 staff members when it opened to 25 faculty and 125 staff today. Those employees process about 85,000 case submissions and conduct 1.25 million diagnostic tests each year, university information states.

The laboratory needs adequate space to perform work that aids animal and human health, helps maintain access to export markets, and ensures products are ready for trade, Dr. Main said. The new laboratory also is needed to address biosafety and biosecurity deficiencies identified by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires AAVLD accreditation for laboratories that perform the diagnostic testing used to determine the health status of farms and animals. The new building will have heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to meet biosafety standards and security to meet biocontainment standards, Dr. Main said, and the university will give the AAVLD annual progress reports during planning and construction.

Citing a recent economic study (Prev Vet Med 2018;151:5-12), Dr. Main said the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at ISU provides economic benefits that are worth more than half the cost of the original proposal each year, and it would provide more than the full cost of the proposal during a year with an outbreak of a disease of high consequence.