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Mass. Life-Sci Officials Whittle Down Wish List in Case Stimulus Requests Rebuffed

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Massachusetts officials and industry leaders are whittling down their wish list of life-sciences projects to a number they hope will pass muster with Washington after they learned the state will see less money than it thought would be available last winter for facilities and training programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The Bay State is hoping that federal agencies will approve at least the $8.7 billion in grants the state expects to win under the $787 billion economic stimulus measure signed into law by President Obama on Feb. 17. The number could even be higher, according to state officials, who contend that Massachusetts is better positioned than most others to qualify for certain grants.

Nationwide, ARRA-funded projects are supposed to retain or quickly generate 3.5 million jobs — more than 79,000 of them in Massachusetts — over two years in hopes of lifting the nation's flagging economy.

Officials from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center — the quasi-public agency that promotes biotech expansion in the Bay State — are working with aides to Gov. Deval Patrick to decide the life-sci facility and training programs for which they will seek ARRA funding, a spokesman told BioRegion News recently.

"The life-sciences center is aggressively reviewing all opportunities for Massachusetts that stem from the stimulus bill, both money distributed through formulas and competitive grant processes," life-sci center spokesman Angus McQuilken said. "We're working with the administration as they develop their full list of projects they're going to seek to fund, to make sure that they're aware of projects that fall in the life-sciences arena."

While the $1 billion, 10-year Massachusetts Life Sciences Act enacted last year by Patrick earmarks some of its funds for infrastructure construction projects intended to benefit new life-sciences facilities, "we are certainly interested in seeing if there may be opportunities to advance funding for those projects through some of these resources" within ARRA, McQuilken said.

Neither McQuilken nor a spokeswoman for Patrick would detail which projects are being examined for possible subsidies through ARRA, pending decisions to apply for any of the numerous grant programs being funded through the stimulus measure.

However, BRN has learned of at least two life-sci related projects that have sought funding, so far without success.

In Pittsfield, Mass., a regional planning group has been told it will not receive $53 million in ARRA funding it sought toward a 6,400-foot railroad line that would have linked a nearby existing track with the Ashuelot Park campus, the former Beloit Corp. manufacturing site owned by Crane & Co., as well as to help redevelop the park into a business park that could also accommodate life-sciences users.

A 2,500-foot portion of that rail line would serve a nine-acre site straddling the border of Pittsfield and Dalton, Mass. The site is occupied by an existing 45,000-square-foot building at the campus, announced in 2007 as the site of a 50-million-gallon-per-year biodiesel plant to be built by Berkshire Biodiesel. But the company has held off building its plant, citing the economic upheaval.

Soon after the original announcement of the biodiesel plant in 2007, Massachusetts' Executive Office of Transportation announced a $3 million grant intended to fund 75 percent of the expense of building the portion of the line designed to serve the biodiesel plant.

The rail line project was not ready to go to bid within two months, and thus not a "shovel-ready" project that could be funded through ARRA, said Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, which oversees land use in the 32 municipalities comprising Berkshire County.

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"This is probably one of those projects where a couple of months [to bid] was too much to expect, but six or eight months might not be," Karns told BRN, allowing for the possibility of funding in a later round of ARRA projects, or even in another stimulus bill should Congress pass one as has been discussed in recent weeks.

"Under either of those scenarios, this could potentially be in play," Karns added.

Also in Pittsfield, Berkshire County's largest city, the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority submitted a request in January for $7.7 million under ARRA for infrastructure improvements to enable the first 26-acre development phase at the 52-acre William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.

The first phase entails creating five ready-to-develop building sites, one of which would be occupied by a 40,000-square-foot office building which this past winter was set to break ground later this month. Work would include demolition and removal of pavements, walls, railroad tracks, and surface features; abandonment of underground manholes, vaults, conduits, and "aged utility features;" and construction of an erosion control system, water and sewer systems.

The business park, almost equidistant between Boston and New York, was where William Stanley, Jr., built a power plant in 1890 that GE acquired 13 years later, when it bought Stanley Electric. GE built transformers and other components used for generating electricity until it shuttered the plant in 1986.

Following the closing, Pittsfield formed PEDA to redevelop the site, envisioned for up to 595,000 square feet of industrial, or "flex" space capable of accommodating R&D and office as well as industrial uses, according to a 2004 master plan prepared by PEDA.

One of the planned buildings at William Stanley would be a 30,000-square-foot life-sci incubator, for which Massachusetts earmarked $6.5 million in last year's Life Sciences Act "for [its] design, construction, and development."

The business park lost a potential life-sci user last November when Nuclea Biotechnologies moved from Pittsfield to Worcester, Mass. In 2006, when Pittsfield officials trumpeted the company's move into their city, Nuclea disclosed plans to expand by 2011 into its own building at William Stanley. But Nuclea could not afford to build its own building there, and Pittsfield didn’t have other sites suitable for a company needing lab space, hence Nuclea's decision to move to Worcester's Clark University and build a clinical diagnostic laboratory there, CEO Patrick Muraca told the Berkshire Eagle last year.

Karns and Matthew Dindio, a spokesman for Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto, confirmed the William Stanley request but referred additional questions to PEDA chairman Bill Hines, Sr., who did not return a telephone message left by BRN.

'Fiscal Relief'

ARRA's total $787 billion in federal cash is divided among numerous grant programs focused on priorities that include "infrastructure and science," "education and training," "energy," and "state and local fiscal relief." The NIH is set to spend $10.4 billion over two years for biomedical research and research "support" activities such as "promoting job creation, economic development, and accelerating the pace and achievement of scientific research" (see sidebar below).

Patrick has named real-estate veteran Jeffrey Simon to oversee the state's ARRA effort as director of infrastructure reinvestment. Among Massachusetts' priorities for ARRA funding, according to a state pamphlet issued in March and intended to explain how the state will use ARRA funding, are "investing in science and technology," "producing clean and efficient energy in Massachusetts," and "modernizing roads, bridges, and transit."

That set of ARRA projects through which Massachusetts hopes to fulfill those goals will likely be a lot shorter than the wish lists of projects compiled over the winter by state agencies through task forces overseen by Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and various secretaries and undersecretaries of Patrick's cabinet.

Back then, "We thought there’d be big blocks of money coming into the states with lots and lots of flexibility," the state's top ARRA official, Jeffrey Simon, told members of the Massachusetts Mayors’ Association at its March 25 meeting, according to a summary on the group's website. "That’s not the way it ended up."

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The reason, Simon told MMA, was because federal officials decided their goal of distributing ARRA funding as quickly as possible required channelling that money through existing federal programs wherever possible.

As a result, Massachusetts is seeing less money available than it originally thought. According to the state's ARRA web site, Massachusetts expects to receive at least $8.7 billion for all projects funded through the federal stimulus fund.

The pamphlet, issued early last month and dated "March/April 2009," projected that Massachusetts would receive between $6 billion and $9 billion. And news reports from February quote state officials projecting at least an $11.7 billion share of ARRA funds.

One task force was charged with identifying shovel-ready projects furnished by publicly funded schools and colleges that could be put out to bid quickly. The result was a wish list that included seven post-secondary life-sciences facilities totaling almost $80 million.

The largest of those projects was the Albert Sherman Center, a 300,000-square-foot research and education facility planned for the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. The facility is named for the med school’s vice chancellor for university relations, and would house an "Advanced Therapeutics Cluster" consisting of the RNAi Institute, Center for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and the Gene Therapy Center; the Department of Quantitative Health Sciences; and the Center for Experiential Learning and Simulation.

The RNAi Institute is a center for research in RNA interference intended to continue the work of Craig Mello, winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in medicine, as well as a Stem Cell Bank and Registry.

During the winter, a state task force envisioned ARRA paying for $330 million of the project's $420 million cost for the center's core and shell. The remaining $90 million would be distributed to UMass by the life-sciences center, since that money has been set aside in Patrick's Life Sciences Act.

"We’re on track to break ground this year," UMass Worcester spokeswoman Alison Duffy told BRN. Sherman Center is set to open in late 2012.

The next-largest life-sci projects on the task force's wish list:

UMass Lowell: A $55 million Emerging Technology & Innovation Center designed to house laboratories and core facilities in nano-manufacturing, bio-manufacturing, and applications of these fields in manufacturing, medicine, and defense. The facility would meet the highest platinum or next-highest gold certification standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design designation.

Framingham State College: $12.5 million toward demolition of the chiller plant, a step the college deems critical in development of an improved Science Center now in planning stages

UMass Amherst: $5 million for renovations to the Morrill Science Center I that include creating a 90 student classroom, advising space, renovations to laboratory space, separation of potable and non-potable water systems, and the installation of lab waste neutralization systems. The project is part of a multi-phased effort to complete "significant" renovations to Morrill I in order to convert most of this space into a life science research facility, UMass told the task force.

UMass Amherst: $3.5 million to complete the fit-out of the fourth floor of the Integrated Science Building to support high-tech research laboratories for the Department of Vet and Animal Sciences. "This work will create wet laboratory research space that will allow the Department to carry out more detailed and critical research that they are not able to complete in their existing facility, Paige Laboratory, which was constructed in 1950," the school told the task force. In addition to completing more technical research, this additional laboratory space will assist the Department in getting more grants for research, will attract better faculty, and students, and will improve the Department’s and University’s standing as a nationally recognized research institution.

Fitchburg State College: $3 million to begin demolition of Parkinson Gym, then move directly into site preparation and pre-construction of a new Science Center, which is set to break ground in 2012.

Roxbury Community College: $500,000 conversion of four electronics labs into science and technology labs which requires new water and gas lines. "It will eliminate overcrowding, allow the college to increase its biotech program, and to provide more needed lab space for nursing and allied health training," the community college told the task force.

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"The list includes some projects that could be eligible for funding, and some projects that may not be eligible under the terms of the act. That's why the state is now taking a look at that earlier list of projects, and any others that might be eligible for funding, and that have the potential to create jobs in both the short- and long-term," McQuilken of the state life sciences center said.

The task force also compiled a list of publicly-funded facility projects yet to be reviewed for shovel-readiness, which according to the state was last updated on March 24.

Among life science-related projects on the yet-to-be-reviewed list: $11 million toward a 15,000-square-foot research facility planned by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The money would fund laboratory, office and assembly spaces, as well as the engineering, design, construction, operation and maintenance of scientific equipment to measure and monitor the ocean processes.

Also on that list, with no projected cost, is the development of a new Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine within the campus of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. MBL would develop the center in collaboration with the Regional Technology Development Corporation of Cape Cod and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth.

MBL spokeswoman Pam Hinkle said her institution had also looked to obtain funding for energy efficiency improvements to several buildings, but could not immediately furnish the cost. MBL originally envisioned energy conservation and efficiency efforts being a priority for ARRA project funding.

One of those buildings, the Loeb Laboratory Building, is slated for extensive renovations, for which the life sciences center last fall approved $10 million. That award leveraged $15 million in funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for the project — but the combined $25 million isn't likely to be enough to build the project.

"Now that we're getting bids, we're finding it's closer to $28 million. We have to find the additional $3 million," Hinkle said, adding that MBL is exploring whether the difference could be funded through ARRA. Pre-site work has begun, and work must be conducted around courses starting in May and running through the summer.

"As soon as those courses are done, around the first of September, [construction] will really start in full force," Hinkle said.

Asked if projects yet-to-be evaluated for shovel-readiness have been ruled out for ARRA funding, McQuilken replied: "Our understanding is that the projects on that list are still being reviewed, at this point, for eligibility for funding. A project not on being on the earlier [shovel-ready] list is not precluded from being funded if it is eligible for funding under the final terms of the federal act."


Highlights of NIH ARRA Grant Programs

• $1 billion in Core Facility Renovation, Repair, and Improvement grants of between $1 million and $10 million, intended to renovate, repair, or improve core facilities, as well as "to improve the general equipment in the core facility or to purchase general equipment for specialized groups of researchers," though equipment over $100,000 cannot be requested. Grants can begin to be submitted Aug. 17, with Sept. the deadline for applications.

• $300 million in grants for shared instrumentation and other capital research equipment. One focused on instruments priced from $600,000 to $8 million; another, instruments from $100,000 to $500,000. Applications are due May 6.

• $200 million in "grand opportunities" or GO grants to develop and implement critical research innovations to advance the research enterprise, stimulate future growth and investments, and advance public health and health care delivery." Letters of intent are due April 27; Applications, May 27.

• $100 million in grants of up to $1 million over two years "to support the hiring of newly-recruited faculty to develop research projects within the context of Biomedical Core Centers, defined as " defined as a community of multidisciplinary researchers focusing on areas of biomedical research relevant to NIH, such as centers, departments, programs, and/or trans-departmental collaborations or consortia.

• "Administrative supplements" to NIH-funded researchers and institutions" for the purpose of promoting job creation, economic development, and accelerating the pace and achievement of scientific research." Deadlines vary depending on the NIH institute from which funding is being sought.

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