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Price tag of federal bio-defense lab rises for Kansas


Funds for high-risk NBAF project secured in 2014 federal budget, but not without request for state matching funds.

The fiscal year 2014 federal budget allotted $713 million for the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) to be built on the Kansas State University campus in Manhattan, Kan. President Barack Obama requested that with that federal funding, the state of Kansas invest another $202 million. Gov. Sam Brownback took that request to the state Legislature in late April.

While Brownback has reportedly cautioned that without the additional state bonds the NBAF may not happen, many legislators are balking at the cost—the state is already on the hook for almost $105 million in matching funds and $35 million in research funding for transitioning the NBAF from Plum Island, N.Y., to Kansas. The Department of Homeland Security also has $200 million invested in the 500,000-square-foot site for preparation, engineering, design and site-specific risk assessments. Original estimates priced the high-risk research facility at $650 million. The total with the additional $202 million would bring costs to more than $1.255 billion.

“Clearly, the price tag is greater than originally thought,” says Ralph Richardson, dean of the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “But by responding to biosecurity concerns—which are of the greatest importance—and simply the increased cost of construction because of delays, the country is still planning for the sort of facility that we need if we are going to maintain a leadership position in today’s global economy related to food safety and animal health.”

The project has been burdened by fundraising since its inception, but Richardson says he is pleased with the progress made. The $80 million central utility plant that will house the heating and cooling systems and provide power for the main laboratory is fully funded and still projected for completion mid-year 2015. “The contracts for the construction of the central utility plant have been awarded and construction trailers and offices are on site,” Richardson says.

It is the funding for the project’s crown jewel—a research facility with laboratories approved for bio-safety levels (BSL) 2, 3E, 3Ag and 4 clearance—that is still pending.

> BSL 2 deals with microbes that pose only moderate hazards to researchers and the environment.

> BSL 3 deals with microbes that can cause serious or potentially lethal disease through respiratory transmission.

> BSL 4, the highest risk level, deals with dangerous microbes that pose a high risk of aerosol-transmitted infections that are frequently fatal and without treatment or vaccines.

The high-risk facility will house study of zoonotic diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, classical swine fever, African swine fever and contagious bovine pleuropheuomonia in the heart of the animal health corridor.

Richardson says biosecurity concerns related to the BSL 4 clearance have increased costs. The additional requested funds will also cover a second laboratory dedicated to small-scale vaccine and reagent production and three other outbuildings.

“The additional $202 million sought from Kansas is not trivial, but when considered in light of the importance of the overall project and the role that Kansas will play in the future of our country’s biosecurity, I believe that our Legislature will provide their support,” Richardson says. “I am optimistic that the plans will move forward without further significant delays.”

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