Contract issued for construction of new utility plant for national biodefense lab

The federal government recently issued the first contract for the long-anticipated construction of the national biodefense laboratory in Manhattan, Kans.

The contract authorizes construction to commence on an 87,000 square-foot central utility plant to serve the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility. The utility plant is expected to cost $80 million and is seen as a major first step in financing the rest of the $1.14 billion project. The funding for the plant was split evenly between Kansas and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, according

"This is a big deal," Ron Trewyn, the vice president of research at Kansas State University, said, reports. "It's getting federal skin in the game."

Kansas received the initial go-ahead for the new lab in 2008 after a fierce national competition. The facility is expected to replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. Progress since then has been exceedingly slow because of funding issues and calls to continue operations at Plum Island.

Some Kansas officials have seen DHS's commitment to build the utility plant, coupled with a new land transfer agreement allowing the agency to acquire 46 more acres near the site, as signals that the project will be supported through its completion, according to

The new lab is intended to research new ways to identify and counter potential threats to the U.S. food supply.