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Van Andel Set to Open Expanded Facility, Triple Staff

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Van Andel Institute next week will formally open its $178 million Phase II research-education project, an expansion of its Grand Rapids, Mich., facility that will nearly triple its laboratory space, allowing it to expand its research and more than triple its staff.

The institute will mark the project's completion with a Dec. 8 ribbon-cutting. Van Andel will use the eight-story, 240,000-square-foot Phase II facility to house expanded research space for neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, ALS, and multiple sclerosis, in addition to chronic illnesses such as diabetes through an affiliation with the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix.

"We've done neurological disorders in the past in a very limited amount, but now we will now be able to expand on that program substantially," Joseph Gavan, a Van Andel spokesman, told GenomeWeb Daily News earlier today. "Our main focus has been cancer, and will continue to be, the lab centers of excellence around cancer and different cancer projects."

Gavan said Van Andel has also begun recruiting the staffers set to occupy Phase II. The institute will expand its current staff of 250 people — 200 in science positions, the rest administrative staffers — with an additional 550 staffers over several years, with recruiting for the first new jobs already in progress.

"We're not going to have to add that much administration, so the vast majority of the new jobs will be in the labs, in science-related roles," Gavan said.

About 800 people are expected to work at Van Andel. That number could include "somewhere between 25 and 40" principal investigators, up from the current 17, Gavan said.

"Our original estimates were 10 years, and I think given some of our recruiting successes, it would probably be closer to five years than 10 to fill it up," Gavan said. "Things have gone well. We've built good programs, and we've had a real stable group of PIs here for the last nine or 10 years."

By the time Phase II fills up, Van Andel expects its budget will increase with it, from about $22 million currently to $125 million.

The project was funded through $220 million in Michigan Strategic Fund adjustable rate demand limited obligation revenue and refunding revenue bonds issued last year. In May, Fitch Ratings lowered the rating on the bonds from AA/F1+ to A+/F1+, following a downgrade in the rating of the Bank of America, which provided an irrevocable letter of credit for the bonds.

Within Phase II, part of one floor will be rented by Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine, which will base there a team of at least 12 Parkinson's disease researchers recently recruited from the University of Cincinnati. The team is transferring to MSU its Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson's Disease Research designation, funded with a $6.2 million grant from the NIH's Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Nationwide, 14 universities hold Udall Center of Excellence designations.

The team will use the Jay Van Andel Parkinson's Research Lab, named for the father of the institute's founder Dave Van Andel, who died of the disease after joining with Rich DeVos in co-founding the $8 billion-a-year direct selling giant Amway.

"Clearly, there will be some collaborations between their team and ours, but they will be independent of one another," Gavan said.

Designed by Rafael Viñoly, Phase II has been built as an addition directly to the west of the 160,000-square-foot Phase I of the campus, creating a combined 400,000-square-foot building that cannot expand further on its site. The campus includes Van Andel's own graduate school, which now has nine students enrolled in its biomedical research PhD program, with a capacity of about 30 students.

The grad school is one education program of the institute. Van Andel also houses in a separate building near the campus a Science Academy with educational programs for elementary and middle school students and teachers.

The long-anticipated project was first announced in 2005 and took two years to build — but was completed two months ahead of schedule and under budget by a joint venture of Hunt Construction Group and Owen-Ames-Kimball, Hunt announced in a statement Monday. Warmer-than-expected weather was a factor in finishing ahead of schedule, Gavan said.

Van Andel noted that Phase II is designed to meet the standards of the US Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Design program of the US Green Building Council.

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