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Stem Cell building may be purchased

by Karen A. Grava - October 2, 2006

The University is exploring the purchase of a 113,000 square-foot building located on a 29 acre site adjacent to the Health Center for stem cell and other research space.

The FarmTech Building, constructed as research space by a private company, was built in the late 1970s and has been well maintained, Barry Feldman, interim vice president and chief operating officer told the trustees last week.

Purchase of the building would replace the need to construct a research tower planned as part of 21st Century UConn.

The trustees endorsed negotiations to purchase the building.

The Health Center Board of Directors has been rethinking its approach to expanded research space, prompted by the need to accommodate growth in stem cell research and shifting patterns in federal support, said Lorraine Aronson, vice president and chief financial officer.

The state plans to spend $100 million over the next 10 years on stem cell research, and the University is well-positioned to receive a significant portion of that funding to further its research, some of the most advanced in the nation.

Federal guidelines currently prohibit conducting certain stem cell research in facilities supported in whole or in part with federal dollars. As a result, it is essential to secure new space as quickly as possible.

"The smart thing financially is to purchase and own the building." Aronson said.

"It will enhance our ability to recruit in the future, provide space to further the University's progress on stem cell research, and give us room to move researchers out of the main Health Center building so renovations there can begin."

The purchase is also necessary because space on the main Health Center campus, on what is known as "the hill," is very tight.

"This plan would cost $15 million to $20 million less than constructing an addition on the hill, and it will bring the space on-line more quickly than construction would," said Peter Deckers, executive vice president for health affairs.

"It will be good for morale and recruiting."

The purchase could be completed as soon as November.

In the meantime, the University has hired experts to help in reviewing environmental tests done on the property, evaluating the condition of the building, determining the renovations needed, and considering appraisals that have been conducted.

If the building is purchased, it will provide not only labs and research space for stem cell researchers from both Storrs and Farmington, but also 73,000 square feet for researchers now located in the main Health Center building.

Those researchers need to move out, in order to permit the completion of renovations that are also part of 21st Century UConn.

Many of those researchers will be permanently relocated to FarmTech, however, and faculty researchers recruited to the Health Center's Signature Programs will occupy the renovated space in the main building.

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