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Friday, 06 September 2013 07:23

MSU commits to building research space in Grand Rapids

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Michigan State University plans to invest in building new facilities in downtown Grand Rapids to help grow the school’s medical research programs.

At a meeting of the Grand Rapids Rotary Club Thursday, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon announced that the first phase of planning for a new biomedical research facility officially starts this week as a cohort of faculty and students from MSU’s Land Policy Institute and School of Planning, Design and Construction are set to kick off several weeks of initial research today.

“The bottom line of this message today is that we are committed to building more research space in this community,” Simon said. “If everything came together perfectly with design and financing and some philanthropic contributions, I think we’re looking at a minimum of two years before any building is complete.”

In January 2012, the MSU Board of Trustees approved the $12 million purchase of 7.85 acres in downtown Grand Rapids, which includes the 173,800-square-foot former Grand Rapids Press building and five nearby parking lots. Earlier this summer, the trustees signed off on the planning and development of a new facility.

While the Press building is a possibility for redevelopment, Simon said it’s uncertain if the building will be a part of the final plan. It’s likely that the building would be razed, she said.

Simon added that the planning and exploration phase is expected to be wrapped up by the end of December, which should provide university planners and trustees with concepts of how the school should move forward with the site.

“Our team’s role is to look at the community and MSU properties and figure out how we can design a high-class, model facility that satisfies researchers, administrators and community partners,” Scott Witter, head of MSU’s Land Policy Institute and its School of Planning, Design and Construction, said in a statement. “That includes looking at everything from sustainability to planning and zoning to technology.”

MSU is working with three consultancy firms that were a part of the initial planning of the College of Human Medicine’s Secchia Center. Jones Lange & LaSalle, URS Corp. and Elzweig will help analyze the Land Policy Institute’s findings and suggestions before the board of trustees signs off on the second phase of concept planning.

The amount of capacity the university hopes to build is still to be determined, but Marsha Rappley, the dean of the College of Human Medicine, said the university is looking to add between 15 and 20 principal researchers. That would potentially more than double the current 15 principal researchers and staff. Each researcher typically has a team of five to six associate researchers and a support staff of roughly eight people.

“We plan to bring a lot of new families here,” Rappley said.

Since opening in 2010, the MSU College of Human Medicine Secchia Center has operated as a medical educational building, without space designated for research laboratories. The new project is meant to address this limitation, as the current facilities the university leases for its researchers from Grand Valley State University and the Van Andel Institute are at capacity.

Going forward in the planning process for the new facility, Simon said the university team would work with several community stakeholders, property owners and current partners on the new project.

“We don’t just want to build a new research facility,” Simon said. “We want our expansion to fit well with the growing community.”

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