Maryland approves plan for state public health lab

A $6.45 million plan for design work for a planned state public health laboratory at East Baltimore Development, Inc.'s massive biotechnology research park has been approved by the Maryland Board of Public Works.

The new lab would replace 35 year old facilities at the aging State Center located in midtown Baltimore. The labs facilitate the response to disease epidemics, foodborne outbreaks and incidents of bioterrorism.

The 31-acre Science + Technology Park research hub at Johns Hopkins, located north of Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore, will be aided by the new 200,000-square-foot lab. The research hub, however, has been slowed by the recession as financing has become scarce.

A cost of $180 million is expected for the new lab, which will be paid for by bonds backed by future lease payments from the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"The laboratory employees and professional staff who work tirelessly to detect outbreaks of infectious diseases, like the H1N1 pandemic influenza and food-borne diseases as well as the daily screening of newborns for genetic and metabolic disorders, certainly deserve a workplace that reflects the significance of their work," Susan Neill, president of the Association of Public Health Laboratories, said. "I know first-hand the benefits of having an updated facility on both workflow and employee recruitment and retention, and I am certain that Maryland will reap similar benefits because of this decision."

The project will be overseen by Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership, the developer of the Hopkins biopark.