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November 24, 2010

Trustees OK $110.5M in building, renovation projects

A renovation that will consolidate and expand the School of Medicine’s Vascular Medicine Institute and Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, and construction of a unique biocontainment lab suite that will facilitate undergraduate training in the Department of Biological Sciences were among $110.52 million in projects recently approved by the Board of Trustees property and facilities committee.

In a Nov. 15 meeting, the committee approved four projects and two lease extensions.

The projects are:

• A $13.99 million renovation of the 12th floor of the Thomas E. Starzl Biomedical Science Tower (BST) to accommodate the Vascular Medicine Institute (VMI) and the Division of Pulmonary Allergy and Critical Care Medicine in the School of Medicine.

A project description provided to the committee stated that the renovation would consolidate and expand research activities within VMI and the division, whose faculty members currently occupy “inadequate and borrowed” space in five campus buildings. The situation impedes collaboration and recruitment, the summary stated.

The renovation of 44,525 square feet of space at the Starzl BST will include laboratories, infrastructure upgrades and interior renovations, all funded through a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant.

• A $6 million project to renovate 4,400 square feet of laboratory space in Langley and Crawford halls to create a Biosafety Level (BSL) 2 and 3 Laboratory Suite for the Department of Biological Sciences. The project is being funded equally through Provost reserves and School of Arts and Sciences reserves.

The unique aspect of the project is that it will include an instructional viewing room adjoining the BSL-3 lab. Cameras in the lab’s biological safety cabinets will enable students to observe the work via closed circuit TV. Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management Joseph Fink said the proposed lab appears to be among the first in the nation to be equipped with features that are conducive both to research as well as undergraduate training. “We have not found another facility like it to get senior-level undergraduates to continue to be interested in biological sciences research,” he said.

The lab will be designed for research with a variety of pathogens, but exactly which ones has not been determined, said Dan Fisher, assistant vice chancellor for research facilities.

Internationally accepted biosafety standards designate four levels, 1-4, based on the procedures and containment needed to protect workers, the community and the environment.

According to Pitt safety guidelines, most work with biological agents at the University is done at BSL-2 levels. BSL-2 agents “are moderate-risk, viable microorganisms associated with human diseases of varying severity in healthy adults. These agents can be hazardous through various exposure routes, but not inhalation.” BSL-2 also is necessary when working with human blood, body fluid or tissues.

Approximately 85-90 percent of the University’s labs are equipped to conduct BSL-2 research, according to Jay Frerotte, director of Environmental Health and Safety.

The BSL-3 designation applies to labs where work is done with pathogens that may cause serious or deadly disease when inhaled. Pitt has two BSL-3 labs in BST3 and others in Scaife Hall, Hillman Cancer Center and the Starzl BST. (Experiments with certain dangerous pathogens, such as smallpox and ebola, require a BSL-4 designation and, per University safety guidelines, are not permitted in University facilities.)

• $50.6 million to build an addition to Salk Hall that will add laboratory and administrative space for the School of Dental Medicine’s Center for Craniofacial Regeneration and the School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacogenetics and Center for Clinical Pharmaceutical Sciences. The project also includes aesthetic and pedestrian safety improvements to Sutherland Drive and will allow for future renovation of Salk Hall. (See July 22 University Times.)

The project is funded through $50 million in state funding and $622,000 in gifts.

• $39.9 million to begin Phase IIA of renovations to Benedum Hall, which is home to the Swanson School of Engineering. This phase includes renovation of floors 3, 6, 7 and 8 as well as construction of an 8,000-square-foot mezzanine level and extensive work in the sub-basement.

The renovated areas will include laboratories, support facilities, small conference rooms and departmental space for the engineering school.

The project cost is covered through $30 million in state funding and $6.6 million in education and general debt.

The property and facilities committee has authority to approve all University construction projects in excess of $1 million and to report its actions to the budget committee so the approved projects can be included in the operating and capital budgets.

John Fedele, Pitt’s associate director of news, said the Salk Hall, Starzl BST and Benedum Hall projects already had gone to the budget committee.

The leases approved by the committee were:

• A five-year lease extension to retain the Department of Biomedical Informatics’ 11,294 square feet of research, teaching and office space in the Parkvale Building at 200 Meyran Ave.

The space includes classroom and research facilities for master’s and PhD students in the department’s biomedical informatics training program.

According to background provided to the committee, the department has research grant funding through NIH, the National Science Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Homeland Security, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health, the Agency for Health Research and Quality and others, as well as a training grant from the National Library of Medicine. The department’s fiscal year 2011 direct grant support totals $11.4 million.

The lease extension begins in March 2011, and continues through February 2016, at an annual cost of $304,938, with an option for a five-year extension.

The agreement may be terminated by the University should program funding be discontinued.

• A five-year lease for the Department of Neurological Surgery’s 4,575 square feet of laboratory, classroom and administrative space in the Parkvale Annex Building at 3520 Forbes Ave.

According to background information presented to the trustees committee, the department’s Laboratory for Computational Neuroscience will occupy part of the building’s second floor. NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute provides annual funding of $586,465 for the program and other grants are pending with future program growth expected.

The lease with Cityview Properties runs February 2011-January 2016 at an annual cost of $123,525, with an option for a five-year extension. The agreement may be terminated by the University should program funding be discontinued.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 43 Issue 7

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