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July 8, 2013

Jax Lab construction on pace for ’14 finish

Contributed Photo Construction on Jackson Laboratory's 189,000 square-foot research facility is scheduled to be completed by 2014.

By the time the Jackson Laboratory Genomic Medicine facility in Farmington is complete, it will be full of glass-walled labs and peppered with small nooks for impromptu meetings, as well as lofty spaces for large public gatherings — even a snack bar and pub for employees.

The space itself is geared toward facilitating interactions among scientists and staff, said Mike Hyde, Jackson Laboratory's vice president for external affairs and strategic partnerships. Hyde is echoing a refrain heard constantly among technology companies and start-up incubators, where the benefits of open spaces and happenstance conversations have been said to lead to eureka moments.

“The greatest innovations and scientific breakthroughs happen at the coffee pot,” Hyde said — or over beers, as the case may be.

Despite a rough winter, construction on Jackson Lab's research facility is on schedule, Hyde said. The building will eventually be 189,000 square feet, set on a 17-acre campus in Farmington, complete with laboratory spaces, scientific support services and a data processing center, as well as traditional meeting halls and conference rooms.

The site had its topping out ceremony back in early May — where the highest piece of structural steel was lifted into place — and work on installations and insulation will be visibly advanced by the autumn months, Hyde said. Construction should be wrapped up, and the building ready for occupancy by October 2014.

The state is providing Jackson Lab a $192 million construction loan for the project, which is estimated to create 842 construction jobs, providing a boost to trade industries that have sat on the sidelines following the recession.

At the moment, however, researchers and support staff are working out of 10,000 square feet of office space rented from the University of Connecticut, Hyde said, where researchers are already at work. Much of that is informatics research — largely done in front of a computer screen — but more wet lab work will also be underway by the time it's ready to move.

Jackson personnel are already planning on how to move from one location to the other with minimal disruption of their experiments, said Yu-Hui Rogers, site director for Jackson Laboratory. She said the move will require some detailed planning, but she doesn't anticipate significant disruptions in the work.

The new space will be ideal for wet labs, Rogers said, as the open spaces will allow for flexibility, with Jackson Laboratory able to move interior pieces and reconfigure room layouts to meet changing needs as they arise over the years — a different scenario entirely than long hallways of cubby-like rooms that wall researchers off from each other and keep them locked in place.

“That's kind of the trend in laboratory design: openness and flexibility,” Rogers said.

Although the center is still very much in start-up mode, she added that staff is already going full-speed in its temporary space, and that its recruits are flush with new energy for the project.

“It's definitely a sense of excitement in the air,” she said.

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