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Australian Research Institute Begins First Phase of Major Expansion

By Alex Philippidis

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Australia's Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute (POWMRI) said it plans to start construction immediately on the A$42 million (US$38.6 million) phase — the first of four phases — of a new A$118 million building designed to enhance its research into brain injury and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, following approval of the project's planning application earlier this month.

The government of New South Wales has approved construction of the first phase, as well as three planned later phases, of a seven-level building. When completed, the building will contain 25,470 square meters (just over 274,000 square feet) of laboratories and offices, as well as an animal house, an auditorium, clinical rooms, and even an ambulance station intended to replace an existing facility.

The completed building is expected to generate 120 construction jobs and accommodate up to 700 staffers, and will mark the second of three development stages for the research buildings that will comprise the Neuroscience Research Precinct on the southwestern portion of the Prince of Wales Hospital precinct in the Sydney suburb of Randwick.

Completion of all three development stages is expected to generate a total 800 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent full-time equivalent jobs for the precinct, which now accommodates the 260 employees of POWMRI and the University of New South Wales — which has a campus and its Prince of Wales Clinical School in Randwick — as well as about 50 full-time research students.

Opened in 1993, POWMRI incorporates molecular, genetic, and genomic approaches in its basic and clinical neuroscience research, focused on aging and neurodegeneration; brain function and imaging; mental illness; neural injury; and sensation, movement, falls, and balance. POWMRI is also home to Genetic Repositories Australia, a national facility for processing, storage, and distribution of human DNA and cell lines collected from patients and study participants.

In addition to the institute and UNSW campus, the precinct is now home to the Black Dog Institute, a nonprofit research and clinical facility specializing in depression and bipolar disorder; and the Prince of Wales Campus Hospitals.

When it first submitted plans for the neuroscience research precinct in 2008, the institute projected the combined POWMRI-UNSW staff would grow to 375 by 2013 and 575 by 2018.

"The POWMRI projections will probably grow a little faster once we have the space. However, the whole concept of the Neuroscience Research Precinct is to encourage even more co-location of Institute, University, and Hospital neuroscience researchers into a single integrated research environment," Peter Schofield, POWMRI's executive director and CEO, told GenomeWeb Daily News this week.

Work on the second development stage follows closely the completion of the precinct's first — namely the construction of more than 2,000 square meters of temporary additions to existing buildings housing the institute's neuroscience research space. The space, designed to accommodate 25 employees, cost A$6 million and increased POWMRI's total space from 6,426 to 8,545 square meters.

Schofield said construction on the second-stage building will start with a phase consisting of seven levels totaling 8,165 square meters of space. That first phase will bring the institute's total amount of research space to 12,240 square meters.

"Work has commenced immediately on issuing the approval — we have been sweating on it. Construction is estimated for completion in July 2011," Schofield said.

Schofield said the budget for construction and partial fit-out — two floors and a plant room — for the phase 2A building is A$29 million, plus consultant, design and planning fees of A$3 million. The fit-out of the remaining four floors and two-floor basement is the subject of a capital appeal which aims to raise a further $10 million for that work, he said.

To date, the institute has secured a total A$41 million for phases 1 and 2A through a Commonwealth Government grant of A$30 million, as well as A$5 million raised by supporters and benefactors of POWMRI, and A$6 million in accumulated interest.

"The reason why the Phase 2 works are broken into 4 stages, A-D, is twofold. The first is because we have to redevelop on the same site as our existing 1- and 2-floor, 40-year-old buildings, so we can't demolish all of it at once, because then there would be no place to locate current staff," Schofield told GWDN.

"We still need to fundraise for the fit-out [for the entire phase 2], but having the 2A building underway should make this very achievable," he added.

One step POWMRI is taking toward that fundraising is seeking funding from the state government of New South Wales matching the state's contribution. "Those funds would allow the phase 2B building to be constructed," Schofield said.

After all four phases are completed, POWMRI plans to start work on the third development phase — an additional building that will consist of seven levels totaling 35,530 square meters, projected to cost A$118 million.

That building will include a new facility for the Black Dog Institute — its current facility would be demolished — as well as laboratory, clinical, and office facilities designed to meet long-term needs for the institutions involved in the precinct.

The Neuroscience Research Precinct's new buildings will house a combined 61,000 square meters of space and are projected to cost a total A$265 million. The buildings are designed to further consolidate research facilities for POWMRI, Black Dog, UNSW and the hospitals.

While all three development stages have been approved in concept, specific plans for the additional building would need to be submitted and approved before construction can begin. "However, what this concept approval achieves is the certainty that future growth can be accommodated," Schofield said.

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