Work continues on the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas, but it will be nearly another decade before animal-disease research gets underway at the 580,000-square-foot facility. During last week’s Academy of Veterinary Consultants conference in Kansas City, Ron Trewyn, PhD, K-State’s liaison to the NABF and the university’s former VP for research, updated veterinarians on the $1.25 billion project.

Initial planning for the NBAF began in 2006, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which will run the facility, selected the Manhattan site, on the K-State Campus, in 2009. The NBAF will replace the aging and outdated Plum Island, NY facility, which opened in 1954. NBAF scientists, in collaboration with K-State, other universities and industry, intend to develop 21st century vaccines, diagnostics and countermeasures against multiple foreign animal diseases.

Once the site was selected, K-State began removing and relocating existing animal facilities in 2010. Ownership of the land transferred from K-State to DHS, and site preparation was completed in 2012. Construction is underway on a central utility plant to serve the NABF, and that facility is about 80 percent complete. Current plans call for construction of the main laboratory to begin in May 2015, with completion planned for December 2020 and full transition from the Plum Island site by August 2023. In the meantime, Trewyn says, America’s bio and agro-defense capabilities will be severely lacking, although K-State’s existing Biosecurity Research Institute, with a bio-safety level 3 (BSL-3) laboratory, will be conducting NBAF-related research. The NABF will include a BSL-4 laboratory area.

Through 2014, federal appropriations have committed $638 million to the project, while the state of Kansas contributed $307 million and the city of Manhattan $5 million. Currently, another $300 million in federal funding for 2015 is pending, although in the President’s budget and approved by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

Once construction begins, Trewyn says countless concrete trucks will be rolling in and out of the site for months, as building security plans for the facility call for it to exceed the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s standards for withstanding an EF-5 tornado. The building essentially will be an enormous bunker encased in a foot or more of reinforced concrete. It will not, however, look like a bunker from the inside or outside. Large windows will provide ample natural lighting and outside views for NABF staff, particularly in office and visitor sections of the facility. A “fly-through” video on K-State’s NABF website provides a virtual tour of the building. Once fully operational, the NBAF will employ about 350 people including scientists, support staff and security.