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UNH: Life sciences upgrades a priority

State House Bureau

September 26. 2017 9:12PM

University of New Hampshire officials remain committed to an $80 million overhaul of life sciences and biology facilities at the Durham campus, despite the refusal of the state Legislature to include money for the project over the past two budget cycles.

The proposed five-year renovation and expansion of Spaulding Hall, where life sciences are located, is seen as vital to a plan that links the university to the work of the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) recently opened with great fanfare in the Manchester Millyard.

The institute, founded by inventor Dean Kamen, is expected to attract millions of dollars in Department of Defense contracts for artificial tissue to be used in organ and limb replacement, particularly for wounded military personnel.

Kamen’s successful proposal to the Department of Defense for the ARMI project included an association with UNH, which would provide graduates with the skills needed to staff the operation as it scales up.

Catherine Provencher, vice chancellor for financial affairs and treasurer of the university system, outlined the USNH capital priorities for lawmakers on Tuesday, in a meeting with the joint House and Senate Public Higher Education Study Committee, and the upgrade to Spaulding Hall was priority one.

It was a university priority before the ARMI project was announced. “It’s been top on our list for the past two bienniums,” she told the committee.

In addition to student demand, and the potential tie-in with ARMI, competition from what Provencher called “peer institutions” is also a factor.

“The University of Vermont, UConn and UMass are all doing huge expansions of their life sciences facilities,” she said after the meeting. “Our labs are very dated, back to the 1970s. This has been our number one project since I arrived at the university system in 2015. It remains our top priority for the university system as a whole and we are looking for different ways to fund it.”

On the drawing board

Bill Janelle, associate vice president for facilities, joined Provencher at the committee presentation and later described the plan for Spaulding Hall as “a complete gut and renovation of the existing building and construction of an addition.”

“All mechanical and electrical systems would be replaced, and the space would be refitted with new laboratories to meet the current day need,” he said. “The way they teach biological sciences has changed since the 1960s when this building was built.”

The university system asked Gov. Chris Sununu to include $30 million in his capital request for the project, with UNH adding $15 million from its own revenue. After that was rejected, USNH reduced its request to $10 million from the state with $5 million coming from the university system.

The $121 million capital budget that passed by the Legislature earmarks $17 million to renovate career and technical education centers in Plymouth and Rochester, but nothing for UNH.

Detailed planning has been completed and the university has committed funds for schematic design, but the full design and construction can’t be finalized until funding is in place, according to the USNH website.

“It’s an $80 million project over a five-year period, starting when we get the money,” said Provencher. “It’s on the drawing board, but we haven’t started any of it, and don’t know when we will.”

Other UNH priorities

Other construction priorities outlined by Janelle and Provencher in their presentation to lawmakers include renovations to:

• Huddleston Hall, built in 1919, home to a spacious ballroom and dining facility;

• Conant Hall, built in 1893 as one of the original five buildings when New Hampshire College moved from Hanover to Durham, now housing the Psychology Department, and;

• Nesmith Hall, also one of the first buildings constructed after the move from Hanover to Durham in 1893.

UNH would also like to replace the Child Study and Development Center. Built in 1988, the center is used for instruction by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and includes 20 full-time staff serving 122 children and their families.

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, a member of the committee, urged university officials to focus on renovating existing facilities rather than building new ones.

In the 15 years since 2003, UNH has renovated 897,455 square feet, while building new or completely replacing 1.1 million square feet.

“That’s one of the problems we have in post-secondary education,” D’Allesandro said. “We’ve created more rather than utilizing properly what we have.”

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