URI breaks ground for construction of $60 million biotechnology center

Posted on
Amgen donates $1 million for labs, academic programming

KINGSTON, R.I. — March 27, 2007 — The University of Rhode Island held groundbreaking ceremonies today for the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, the largest academic building project in the University’s history and a major center of education and research that will drive economic development in the state’s growing biotechnology industry.

At the ceremony, Amgen, the leading biotechnology employer in Rhode Island, committed $1 million to the University’s “Making a Difference” campaign. The gift will be used to support construction of state-of-the-art laboratories and endow academic programs in the Center.

“In the three years since I included this project in the budget, biotechnology has continued to grow as a significant element of our state’s economy,” said Governor Donald L. Carcieri. “With more than 4,700 people employed in this industry in Rhode Island, with $270 million in direct wages, and with employees generating approximately $16 million in income and sales tax each year, the biotech industry is a major driver of our economy. This new Center will help prepare our students for the future.”

“The Center for Biotechnology will provide our students with the learning environment that will allow them to become leaders in growing and emerging disciplines, and it will create an environment in which our faculty can conduct research that will lead to scientific advances to serve America,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers.

The architect for the Center is Payette Associates of Boston, and Providence-based Gilbane Building Co. will serve as the construction manager.

When completed in 2009, the $60 million, 140,000-square-foot facility will house modern classrooms, high-tech specialty laboratories, support areas for DNA sequencing, faculty offices, incubator space for technology commercialization, a 100-seat classroom and a two-story, 300-seat auditorium, all to meet the needs of URI’s growing environmental biotechnology and biological sciences programs. It will also feature a staircase that represents the DNA double-helix.

“The new Center will include several design features that will qualify the structure for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. These include an energy efficient heating and cooling system, a ‘green’ roof that is partially covered in vegetation that will serve to filter pollutants and reduce heating and cooling needs, a storm water treatment feature, and environmentally friendly building materials,” said Robert A. Weygand, URI vice president for administration.

The building is being funded with both public and private monies: a $50 million state bond approved by voters in 2004 and $10 million in private donations.

“Amgen has been a great partner and long-time supporter of our biotechnology initiatives, from donating equipment to our biomanufacturing lab at the Providence campus to hosting interns and hiring our graduates,” said Jeff Seemann, dean of the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences and the driving force behind the University’s biotechnology initiative. “This latest donation further demonstrates their commitment to URI and the state of Rhode Island, and we are deeply appreciative of their generosity.”

Kimball Hall, Amgen vice president and general manager of Rhode Island operations, said that the new center fills a vital educational need.

“Amgen is committed to enhancing science literacy and education in our community,” she said. “These laboratory suites are absolutely necessary for the next generation of scientists to learn the latest techniques and processes that will result in improved quality of life for millions of people. We are thrilled that URI is taking a lead in teaching the biological sciences, and we are excited to be a part of it.”

Amgen, a biotechnology pioneer, discovers, develops and delivers innovative human therapeutics. Amgen’s medicines have helped millions of patients in the fight against cancer, kidney disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other serious illnesses.

The Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences will be the anchor of the North District of URI’s Kingston Campus, which will also be the future home of new buildings for the University’s pharmacy, nursing and chemistry programs.

“The development of the North District will make URI a national leader in the life and health sciences and even more central to the economic development of Rhode Island,” said Weygand.

“Our faculty are researching critical issues that demand solutions, and the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences is an essential part of obtaining those solutions,” Seemann added.

The tools of biotechnology are being used in research in nearly a dozen academic departments at URI, from chemistry and pharmacy to plant sciences, oceanography, and mechanical engineering. URI scientists are working to understand the basis for diseases such as cancer, Lyme disease and eastern equine encephalitis; seeking solutions for food safety and security issues; developing the next generation of biofuels to reduce dependence on foreign oil; and working to protect the health of Narragansett Bay.

Private monies raised in support of the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences are part of the URI “Making a Difference” campaign, which seeks $100 million to recruit and retain outstanding faculty, enhance the student-centered campus experience, provide undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships, and fund cutting-edge academic and research initiatives.

Architectural renderings by Payette