CHAPEL HILL — UNC-Chapel Hill will give up $14.5 million in federal stimulus money to help expand its animal research center in rural Orange County, after determining it could need another $20 million to make the project work.
The National Institutes of Health grant would have added two buildings to the Bingham Facility to house dogs and hogs used to study hemophilia and heart disease. The animals are now housed in an outdated center in Carrboro the university had hoped to close.
"This is a major change of course for us, and it will take some time to determine our future plans for the Bingham Facility," Associate Vice Chancellor Bob Lowman said in an e-mail note to neighbors Monday.
"Until those plans are complete, the university will continue to maintain and operate the Bingham Facility at its present size," the note said.
The Bingham Facility, west of Carrboro, houses about 85 dogs used in hemophilia research in a pair of decades-old buildings. A third building, intended for muscular dystrophy dogs now housed in Hillsborough, is nearing completion.
At one point, officials estimated the Bingham Facility might house between 400 and 450 dogs and up to 150 hogs. But the project was beset by environmental problems.
In May, the university paid a $15,000 state fine for leaking an unknown amount of treated wastewater into a nearby creek feeding the Haw River and eventually Jordan Lake. The leak likely contained very low levels of nitrogen andfecal coliform, state officials said.
State regulators also issued UNC-CH a violation notice in April for filling in a small wetland to build a gravel road and filling another wetland to construct a pond to hold treated wastewater.
A third notice cited the university after broken pipes spilled 1,800 gallons of treated wastewater onto the ground in late February.
Lowman said it became clear that fixing the wastewater treatment system, adding a proposed sixth building for veterinary needs and improving security at the site, among other expenses, were going to cost more than the university had calculated.
"We had talked about repurposing the grant," Lowman said in an interview Monday night. "NIH, I think correctly, said no. They told us we would need to use the money for its intended purpose or relinquish the grant."
Chancellor Holden Thorp put Lowman in charge after the wastewater problems surfaced. Lowman said he was not surprised the total costs were not known sooner. "I think [for] the grant application, the assumption was we would have the infrastructure we needed," he said.
Laura Streitfeld, an organizer with the group Preserve Rural Orange, said the expansion was not the right fit for the rural community.
"The neighbors and Preserve Rural Orange have been very concerned about building this facility in a place without municipal services," she said. "We feel the cost would have been not only to taxpayers but to the environment and public health."
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