Tuesday, September 25, 2012
OKLAHOMA CITY – The University of Oklahoma plans to get a deal on research laboratories and office space by purchasing property rather than new construction.
Last week, OU regents approved the purchase of the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park, the 700,000-square-foot development that houses a number of biomedical startup companies. The terms of the deal have not been disclosed.
The university must ask permission from the Legislature to finance the project, said Dr. Dewayne Andrews, senior vice president and provost of the OU Health Sciences Center. He said he expected the deal to close in the summer of 2013.
The university will use funds set aside for real estate to help cover the payment. Expanding research capabilities will help increase the number of grants for which the university can apply, Andrews said.
“Many of the grants will be returned to Oklahoma, to the College of Medicine and to the Health Sciences Center,” Andrews said. “It stimulates economic development; it contributes to the intellectual capital of Oklahoma City when we acquire a class-A research space, rather than a try to build it now.”
Designing and building a lab facility could take at least a year, with a cost of about $400 per square foot.
Funds for the purchase will come from a variety of sources, including some federal funds, Andrews said. The university will likely keep most of the existing tenants in the research park, and rent from those tenants will be used to help pay for the project, he said.
One specific research goal is to expand basic cancer research. In order to do that, the university needs to hire more research scientists. However, they need more lab space for animal testing, which is necessary before any cancer research trials are started in people. The acquisition of the research park would solve that space problem.
“I don’t think we could really recruit new scientists to a research space without labs to put them in,” Andrews said.
The nearby facilities will give the university an opportunity to restructure its research operations and infrastructure. Rather than staying in proverbial silos, scientists from many different disciplines will be in close proximity to one another.
“We will cluster research teams to facilitate interaction and collaboration,” Andrews said. “Researchers appreciate bumping elbows, if you will, with people in different disciplines, but who have the same fundamental problems, at a cellular level.”
Kenneth Rowe, vice president of administration and finance for the Health Sciences Center, was not immediately available for comment regarding specifics on the financing of the project.