UConn, USDA Hold Public Information Session on Research Facility

USDAARSAbout 20 area residents attended a public information session at the Bishop Center on May 18 regarding a proposed U.S. Department of Agriculture research facility that would be constructed on the University of Connecticut’s Depot campus. The $27 million building would be funded entirely by the federal government and would provide space for both UConn and USDA researchers studying vaccines to prevent the spread of illnesses among livestock.

The USDA has 12 similar facilities throughout the nation, many of which are in partnership with universities. Officials at the session noted that the goal of the vaccine work is to keep livestock populations, which are essential to the U.S. food supply, healthy.

Representatives from the USDA, the University, and the architectural firm that would design the building gave a presentation on the facility’s purpose and answered questions from the audience.

The 35,000-square-foot, single-story structure would include offices, laboratories, and a holding barn for the animals used in the research. It would be built to hold up to 84 large animals, such as cattle.

Scientists researching the vaccines would deal only with common illnesses found among livestock. Between 15 and 30 people would work in the building.

“This will be a safe research facility, similar to what we already have on the Storrs campus.” – Alexandria Roe, director of planning and program development for UConn architectural and engineering services.

The University notified the Mansfield town government and all residents who live within a half mile of the proposed building that the session would be taking place, in addition to placing fliers in public places in Mansfield, such as the local library. Notice of the meeting also ran in the Willimantic Chronicle. The session was a first step in what will be a lengthy process. The USDA and UConn will now prepare an environmental assessment of the proposed building’s impact on the site and the surrounding area. Once complete, there will be a 30-day period for public review and comment.

“The meeting was held so that the USDA and UConn could explain the work that would be going on in the building and address any questions or concerns people in the area might have,” said Alexandria Roe, director of planning and program development for UConn’s office of architectural and engineering services. “It was important to reach out to the community and let them know that this will be a safe research facility, similar to what we already have on the Storrs campus.”

Audience members raised a number of issues about the facility including security for the building, its proposed location, how medical and animal waste would be treated or removed, and what impact it may have on the Willimantic River. A number of residents urged the University to find ways to better utilize the rest of the vast Depot campus, which is the site of the former Mansfield Training School.

According to UConn and USDA representatives at the meeting, the USDA building would be secure and require key card access to its labs. There would also be a fence around a portion of it and it would be surrounded by existing trees. Medical waste would be removed to a location off site and any contaminated animal waste would be treated according to research guidelines.

<p>Conceptual rendering of USDA’s proposed animal health research facility at UConn’s Depot Campus.</p>

Conceptual rendering of USDA’s proposed animal health research facility at UConn’s Depot Campus.

“This work is about finding ways to keep livestock healthy and protect them against illnesses that can affect them,” says Ian Hart, associate dean for research and advanced studies in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “This will be a modern, well-equipped space for the researchers to carry out this critical work.”

UConn and the USDA are currently in the preliminary planning stage of the process. Construction will take place once full funding is obtained. It will take roughly two years to build the facility. The University looked at several possible sites and decided that the Depot campus location best met its needs.