State science lab asks lawmakers for $3M in facility improvements
Julie Ann Grimm
The New Mexican
January 17, 2013
The state scientific laboratory in Albuquerque would get an additional $3 million worth of improvements over the next three years if the New Mexico Legislature agrees to the proposal as part of a much larger spending bill.
It’s been a little over two years since the Department of Health’s Scientific Laboratory Division opened, along with facilities for the Department of Agriculture’s veterinary laboratory and the Office of the Medical Investigator. The price tag for the state building was $86 million, and officials say it’s the most complex facility New Mexico has constructed.
Scientific lab Director David Mills said the requested funding would help things run more smoothly.
“We are doing everything in the building that we wanted to do and that we planned to do,” he said. “The people are safe, but what we found after we got into the building is that there are a number of items that could use fine tuning, adjustment and in some cases, you could say, fixing.”
About 200 people work at the facility, which conducts approximately 350,000 tests on 85,000 samples each year. Almost every lab test conducted on behalf of the state happens there, including investigations on food-borne illnesses, biological and chemical acts of terrorism and infectious diseases; autopsies; law-enforcement evidence evaluations, such as blood samples for drug and alcohol tests; and investigations of contaminated soils, to name a few.
Among big-ticket items in the funding requests is a “power filter” that would help prevent surges in the event of electrical failures. The facility is equipped with generators powerful enough to provide enough electricity in an emergency that scientists may safely store materials and evacuate the building. The emergency power system also keeps freezers and incubators running to preserve the integrity of samples.
The problem, Mills said, is that routine testing of the emergency generator causes power surges that can have a cumulative destructive effect on sensitive laboratory equipment. Buying the industrial surge protector will help preserve the state’s investment in “tens of millions of dollars worth” of machines in the building.
The facility’s air-handling system for its high-level containment laboratories also needs some kind of improvement, Mills said. Special laboratories equipped with fans that create negative air pressure are designed to limit the potential that harmful bacteria or viruses will escape during testing. Part of the requested money would identify ways to add redundancy to those systems to give scientists a bigger window in case of an emergency, he said.
Cash for the scientific labs building is just a small piece of the first draft of this year’s capital projects legislation introduced by Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, vice chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and chairman of its subcommittee on capital improvements.
The proposal outlines about $47 million for projects statewide, but the capital bill is typically one of the last pieces of legislation adopted each session. The available cash from sales of bonds against severance tax revenue is about $233 million, he said, so the final package that comes out of the Senate is likely to fall somewhere between those figures.
Projects on the list so far mostly came from state agencies, which have vetted about $1 billion in spending requests through the Legislative Finance Committee staff.
“What we have right now are imminent and critical facility needs,” Cisneros said. The remainder of the funding capacity is likely to get taken up by proposals from the governor and from individual legislators. “It’s, right now, essentially the framework for creating the capital outlay measure for the session.”
Among other projects on the list:
* $1 million for the New Mexico School for the Deaf on Cerrillos Road.
* More than $1 million for senior centers and seniors programs in Santa Fe County.
* $12 million for statewide museum improvements.
* $600,000 to plan and design a fitness and wellness center at the Institute for American Indian Arts.
* $975,800 for renovations and repairs at the Supreme Court building.
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @julieanngrimm.