The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services plans to build a $94 million laboratory complex off Edwards Mill Road that will allow it to close and consolidate four aging lab buildings in the city.
The Agricultural Sciences Center will combine labs that test food and drugs and motor fuels, that detect animal diseases and that calibrate scales and other measurement devices into one 200,000-square-foot building. The old labs are 43 years old on average and are outdated, said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
“These labs we have now are cramped,” Troxler said Thursday.
The money for the project will come from the Connect NC bonds that state voters approved in March. The building will take 18 months to design and won’t be completed until late 2020, Troxler said.
“This is a very difficult design, because we’re putting so many facilities together,” he said.
About 200 people will work in the center, which will be adjacent to the offices and labs of the department’s Agronomic Division on Reedy Creek Road.
The Agricultural Sciences Center is the latest development in the ever-changing use of state-owned land in West Raleigh. While long used for farming and forestry programs at N.C. State University, the area has also been a destination for public institutions that needed more space, including the State Fairgrounds in the 1920s, Carter-Finley Stadium in the 1960s, the N.C. Museum of Art in the 1980s and PNC Arena in the 1990s.
The state has also found the area a good place for offices and laboratories, such as the State Laboratory of Public Health and the N.C. National Guard headquarters, both completed in recent years. Three of the agriculture labs that will be replaced are just off Blue Ridge Road across from the art museum (the fourth is adjacent to Central Prison, off Western Boulevard).
There’s also been interest in taking advantage of the area’s location between Interstate 40 and the Beltline and selling some of the state land for private development. Apartments and office buildings have gone up in recent years on 144 acres of former state farmland just west of the PNC Arena, and Gov. Pat McCrory has put property along Blue Ridge Road, opposite the art museum, on the market, too.
The state will determine whether it needs the three old agriculture labs on Blue Ridge for some other use, but Troxler said he expects they, too, will eventually be sold for private development.
The land for the new center, at the corner of Edwards Mill and Reedy Creek roads, is now used by the N.C. State University School of Veterinary Medicine for dairy cows, under a long-standing agreement with the agriculture department, said Kent Yelverton, the department’s director of property and construction. Yelverton said it’s possible the cows will be able to stay, using part of the property that won’t be developed.
Troxler went to the site Thursday to announce that HH Architecture of Raleigh had been selected to design the center from a field of a dozen interested firms. Owner Kristen Hess said she had toured the old labs several times and was excited by the people she met there.
“The people, the work itself, are truly inspirational,” Hess said.
The new building will be more energy efficient and designed so it can be adapted to changes in science and technology, Troxler said. The existing labs were built when most lab work was done using chemical solutions. They have been difficult to retrofit for more sophisticated methods and machinery.
Troxler described many of the functions of the labs, which serve not only the agriculture industry but also consumers. The food and drug lab, for example, found a strain of bacteria in frozen corn that prompted a recall from grocery stores in 15 states last month.
“We are the first line of defense in recognizing diseases that affect people and animals,” he said.