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DHS awards NBAF contract

By The Mercury

The Department of Homeland Security has officially awarded the contract for construction of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility’s central utilities plant.

The action, which was announced in press releases by members of the state’s Congressional delegation Friday, releases $40 million in fiscal year 2011 appropriations to be spent on construction “without further delay,” although the official construction date hasn’t been set. The state is also providing a $40 million match for the utilities plant.

Construction of the central utilities plant, which will house the primary heating and cooling systems for NBAF as well as diesel generators for supplying emergency power for the facility, is expected to be completed in two and a half years.

McCarthy and Mortensen, the major construction firms that provided preconstruction phase services and site preparation, will preside over the utilities plant construction, said DHS spokeswoman Nicole Stickel.

The plant will be a free-standing 87,000 sq. ft. building on the NBAF site at the corner of Kimball and Denison. The biosafety level 4 facility is slated to replace Plum Island Animal Disease Center as the nation’s lead facility for large animal research.

Release of the funds is considered a significant event for a project, which has experienced difficulties during the past year including a delay in construction and a lack of funding.

Around this time last year, DHS started reevaluating the project at the request of President Barack Obama. The project’s cost had ballooned from $450 million when DHS selected Manhattan as the site in 2009 to more than $1 billion.

DHS considered three options: whether to build NBAF as currently designed, build a smaller-scale facility or continue operations at Plum Island. The latter option appears to be out of play, but DHS still hasn’t made it known publicly which of the other two options it will proceed with.

While much funding still has to be secured for the project, NBAF supporters said Friday that this is a step in the right direction.

“This was the next step we have all been waiting for and moves us further down the construction timeline,” said Sen. Pat Roberts. “We will continue to work together to monitor each step in the process to ensure NBAF remains a top national security priority.”

Other members of the Kansas federal delegation also expressed delight in the latest development.

Sen. Jerry Moran, who recently established an office in Manhattan after moving here, made the announcement earlier in the week that DHS was going to award the contract. He termed the announcement “good news for Kansas.”

Rep. Tim Huelskamp said the action provides momentum for the project. The positive momentum started when DHS accepted the NBAF land transfer from the Kansas Board of Regents in December.

“This is a significant and decisive step toward construction of the facility, and the Administration’s commitment to the project,” Huelskamp said.

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