Preparing for another potential outbreak of bird flu, the University of Minnesota is moving quickly on an $8.5 million expansion and renovation of a poultry testing facility designed to advance avian flu research.
By Labor Day, the U of M hopes to have a design team on board for the improvements to the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory at 622 Business Hwy. 71 NE in Willmar.
The goal is to finish the project by April 2016. The design selection is going through the State Designer Selection Board.
Monique MacKenzie, director of architecture and planning at the U of M’s Capital Planning & Project Management, said the schedule is aggressive — and that’s by design.
“We wanted to make it as aggressive as possible,” MacKenzie said Monday. “The cycle of the bird flu accelerates in the spring, so the sooner we can get this built, the better.”
The project is a response to the spring 2015 bird flu crisis that wiped out millions of chickens and turkeys and struck a blow to Minnesota’s poultry producers. The 2015 Legislature approved funding for the project in the state bonding bill.
A May 2015 analysis from the University of Minnesota Extension says avian flu has resulted in an estimated $310 million in losses to Minnesota’s poultry production and related businesses.
Poultry production and processing is a $3 billion industry in Minnesota, and it represents about 7 percent of the state’s agricultural and forestry economy, according to the U of M Extension.
On its website, the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association says Minnesota is ranked No. 1 in the nation for turkey production and that Minnesota’s turkey farmers raise about 46 million birds annually.
In April, Gov. Mark Dayton issued an executive order declaring the avian flu a “peacetime emergency” in the state.
The project will provide 9,200 square feet of new laboratories and support space and is expected to improve the efficiency of the existing 12,000-square-foot Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar.
The existing facility dates to the early 1960s, though MacKenzie said the U of M has made some “reinvestments” in the building over time.
MacKenzie said laboratories will account for about two-thirds of the expanded space. The rest of the new space will be for support services, including offices, freezers, storage and equipment.
A request for proposals said the project will “substantially improve the laboratory’s efficiency and ability to meet testing requirements,” and “respond to avian influenza and other diseases of poultry.”
Design and construction are expected to cost about $6.55 million, with the total fixed budget set at $8.529 million.
Design proposals were due Monday. The State Designer Selection Board is expected to unveil a “short list” of finalists Aug. 18 and conduct interviews Aug. 25, according to the RFP.
The U of M will start selecting a builder “almost immediately after the architect is on board,” MacKenzie said.