A new Rhode Island Public Health Laboratory is being designed to replace a 40-year-old laboratory building. The current building’s outdated support systems have become untenable to maintain, and the available space in the building is inhibiting programmatic growth, especially for surge testing capacity and implementation of new testing technologies including genomic sequencing.
The 212,000-sq.-ft. building in Providence will house the state’s new health lab and life sciences labs for Brown University, and additional biotechnology space. The facility is located in the state’s Innovation and Design District on the former I-195 land. The building held a ground-breaking ceremony in November 2022, and is scheduled for completion in 2025. Ancora L&G is the developer for the project. The goal for the building is to be LEED Silver-certified.
The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) State Health Laboratories will anchor the $165 million facility, with the state owning and occupying 80,000 square feet. The State Health Laboratories will offer a larger, more modern, and technologically advanced workspace than the current state health lab. The project will include a Biosafety Level 3 facility and provide critical services for a variety of infectious disease, environmental and forensic testing needs. The updated space will allow the State Health Laboratory to have a more flexible response to emerging threats, as well as applying new technologies such as the expanding field of genome sequencing.
“The decision to pursue a public/private partnership for the building is unique for a state laboratory facility. Other states may be closely affiliated with public university systems to provide integration with academic research and expertise,” says Dr. Glen Gallagher, director of State Health Laboratories, Rhode Island Department of Health. “Our facility will push this further as a full partnership with a private developer. This provides cost-effective sharing of building support systems and allows for co-localization with a variety of academic, biotech industry, and early-stage biotech start-up tenants. We see this as a huge benefit to the local economic development and an opportunity for the Rhode Island State Health Laboratories to closely partner with these groups to accelerate innovation and allow for the early adoption of new technologies to stay at the forefront of Public Health testing.”
While there are many potential benefits to a public/private venture such as the RIDOH State Health Laboratories, the specific needs regarding the safety and security of the Health Laboratory staff and the work being done in these laboratories need to be figured into the design plans. “Because of the critical nature of the work in these laboratories in emergency responses, including biological and chemical threats, the State Health Laboratory components require full systems redundancy,” says Gallagher. “Additional design features including architectural, building management, and access control systems will aid in ensuring the biosecurity of the facility and maintenance of the chain of custody to ensure the defensibility of all of the testing results delivered by the State Health Laboratories.”
Gallagher continues, “While it is too early to determine the success, we are hoping that a ‘Science on Display’ concept will be a benefit to all of the tenets of the building. This concept centers on planned mixed-use spaces that combine conference, laboratory training, and surge testing space. If successful, there will be cross-fertilization of ideas and technology to further the public and private interests. This science-on-display concept should also have impacts on talent retention in the Rhode Island Department of Health by raising the profile of the work done at our laboratories, but also creates pathways for the training of early career scientists into highly technical public health jobs.”