Biorepository about the only place where construction activity is going on around research campus

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 16, 2009

By Emily Ford
KANNAPOLIS ó The warp speed of construction at the N.C. Research Campus has slowed almost to a standstill since the national economy tanked last fall.
Officials at the $1.5 billion biotechnology hub have been forced to delay several projects because they can’t secure construction loans. A planned housing development has been tabled until the residential market rebounds.
But the situation could improve soon, and construction of a high-tech storage facility is under way.
Developers are working daily to obtain financing for two major projectsóthe new branch of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and the Medical Office Building.
“We are reasonably close. They have made good progress, but the deal is not done,” said Tom Sanctis, head of commercial construction for Castle & Cooke North Carolina, developer of the Research Campus.
In the meantime, crews are piecing together a storage facility called the biorepository at the corner of Chipola Road and U.S. 29.
The site work is about half done, including grading, utilities and street improvements to Chipola Road, said Mike Goodelle, vice president of commercial construction for Castle & Cooke.
The building is about 25 percent complete and should open on schedule in May, he said.
The 40,000-square-foot facility will provide long-term cold storage for biological samples like blood and tissue. Castle & Cooke is building the biorepository for Laboratory Corporation of America, or LabCorp, which will operate it in collaboration with Duke University.
Duke will store millions of samples for its long-term medical research study in the biorepository. Other universities and companies also will pay to store samples there.
LabCorp is expected to hire 36 technicians to work at the facility.
Some 25 subcontractors have worked on the construction, Goodelle said.
Assuming they can get the loans they need, campus developers have several other projects outlined for 2009.
“We’re excited about all of them,” Sanctis said. “But from a uniqueness perspective, the community college building is going to be an absolutely tremendous addition to the campus.”
Once the 60,000 square-foot facility is built, RCCC will move its biotech programs to Kannapolis and train hundreds of people to work in the laboratories.
Providing jobs for local people is an important part of campus founder David Murdock’s vision, Sanctis said.
“Research is one thing, but sustainability and jobs are just as important,” Sanctis said.
If they had the financing, developers already would have broken ground on the Medical Office Building where Curb Motorsports used to be on Loop Road.
Plans are done and leasing is well under way, Sanctis said.
Pharmaceutical Product Development Inc. and Carolinas Medical Center-NorthEast will lease parts of the 160,000- square-foot building, which will include a branch of Cabarrus Family Medicine.
Castle & Cooke will construct a parking deck next door.
Later this year, developers plan to build the N.C. State University Greenhouse Agricultural Research Center about a mile from campus on Glenn Avenue.
This facility, which will include several buildings, “was downsized as the program changed,” Sanctis said, and is still on the drawing board.
A greenway will connect the agricultural center to the main campus, so people can walk or ride bikes.
In addition to the greenhouse, the center will include space for classrooms, potting areas, environmental chambers and an apartment for a caretaker.
Sanctis said he hopes to break ground by this summer.
Appalachian State University, the eighth college to join the Research Campus, soon will move into the massive building shared by N.C. State and Dole Food Co., one of three campus buildings that opened in October.
Crews are upfitting about 3,000 square feet of unfinished space on the first floor for the ASU Human Performance Laboratory.
More than 150 townhomes at the south end of the Village, where Cannon Mills Plant 4 once stood, are on hold indefinitely.
“If the residential market was better, we’d certainly be making more progress in that area,” Sanctis said. “But that market must respond before we move forward.”
Castle & Cooke will construct retail space, homes and additional laboratories as the market demands, he said.
Asked if he’s optimistic or cautious going into 2009, Sanctis chose cautious.
“I’m still enjoying the work,” he said. “There’s nothing like it going on anywhere else.”