116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Four years after lower-than-requested state funding forced Iowa State University to downsize its proposed 150,000-square-foot, $124 million Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, ISU is asking lawmakers this session to support a “phase two” for the project.
ISU leaders are seeking $60.8 million in legislative support — spread over four years — for the $64.3 million phase two.
That would be in addition to the $63.5 million lawmakers already committed to the first phase’s $75 million total — bringing state support to a combined $124.3 million for the overall total of $139.3 million.
Those combined costs are about $15.3 million more than the $124 million originally proposed and $24.3 million more than the original $100 million ask — which was to be spread over five years at $20 million a year.
When the state fell shy of that original request, the Board of Regents in 2020 gave ISU permission to start building the smaller $75 million project. That project is on track for completion in spring 2023.
‘Important role’ in animal health
Iowa State officials and advocates presented their appeal to lawmakers Wednesday during a Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations subcommittee meeting.
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig said the lab and its services “really touches each and every person in this room, each and every citizen of the state of Iowa in some way or another — whether it's supporting our $32 billion livestock industry or whether it's supporting our wildlife industry here through testing for disease, like chronic wasting disease, or whether it's making sure and ensuring the safety of the food that we produce here in the state of Iowa.”
“This diagnostic lab has a really important role in the health of our animals in the state of Iowa.”
The goal of phase two, according to regents documents, is to bring all Veterinary Diagnostic Lab programs “under one roof, including laboratory testing, research space, and support functions.”
“These remaining programs constitute critical laboratory functions, which affect more than 85 percent of all cases processed by the VDL,” the documents state.
“This addition would consolidate all VDL operations, provide efficient and effective process flow, address critical issues of space quantity and quality, and provide the necessary biosafety and biocontainment for the only full-service and fully accredited veterinary diagnostic lab in the state of Iowa.”
Although ISU houses the 46-year-old lab, it serves a broader statewide purpose as Iowa’s only “level 1 lab” in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network
It is one of only 32 labs in 23 states capable of processing tens of thousands of diagnostic tests while also training scientists and completing research.
Since it opened in 1976 with 10 faculty and 20 staff who processed 16,000 cases via 35,000 tests, the lab has ballooned to 25 faculty and 140 staff, who in 2021 processed 110,000 cases via 1.5 million tests.
Since 2010, the number of cases submitted and processed at the ISU lab has increased 170 percent, or 40,800 cases.
All that activity generates tens of millions in state revenue — as much as $124.2 million during an animal health emergency, amounting to a 3,104 percent return on the state’s $4 million annual appropriations investment, according to regents documents.
‘Obsolete, unsuitable’ space
But the lab’s current “obsolete and unsuitable” space suffers from “serious deficiencies in biosafety, biocontainment, quality and amount of suitable space,” Iowa State reported to lawmakers Wednesday.
In 2018, Lab Director Rodger Main warned the facility was at risk of losing its “tier 1” status — stripping its authority to conduct testing with any “official, regulatory or program disease consequence.”
Those services, according to Main, are a “foundational element in supporting Iowa animal agriculture’s ability to sell animals and animal products (meat, milk, and eggs) into the global marketplace.”
State support enabling the new lab’s second phase would resolve “critical unmet needs” — as 80 percent of VDL testing functions will continue in their current spaces after the new lab’s first phase debuts, including molecular diagnostics, serology, virology and toxicology, according to Main.
Although ISU is seeking a state commitment of $60.8 million before embarking on a second phase, it’s proposing appropriations come in pieces — starting with $15.7 million in the upcoming budget year; $17.6 million fiscal 2024; $16.5 million in fiscal 25; and $11 million in fiscal 2026.
“The VDL caseload has more than doubled in the last five years, which has exacerbated the critical shortage of functional and programmatically appropriate space,” according to regent documents.
“Deficiencies in space, functional layout and building environmental infrastructure affect the ability of the VDL to serve Iowa’s animal agriculture industry and limit the ability to develop and incorporate new state-of-the-art diagnostic tools and techniques.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
Comments: (319) 339-3158; firstname.lastname@example.org