Letters to campus

February 2014

Dear Faculty and Staff:

Greetings from Anderson Hall! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the snow is almost behind us and am looking forward to one of my favorite times of the year in Kansas – springtime in the Little Apple! 

When I arrived at K-State as president nearly five years ago, Manhattan had just been selected as the site for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, or NBAF, following a highly contested national selection process. Little did anyone know when the announcement was made that a team of elected officials and university leadership would spend the next five years securing necessary federal and state funding to make the NBAF laboratory a reality.  

In January, the Kansas Board of Regents asked each of the three research universities to present a vision for enhancing economic growth for the State of Kansas. K-State was asked to discuss how we could optimize the economic impact of NBAF locating in Manhattan, and I provided an update on that project as well as introduced the concept of Global Food Systems to help leverage NBAF. The University of Kansas was asked to discuss how it plans to become a comprehensive cancer center, and Wichita State University was asked to discuss its planned technology incubator facility. In this month’s letter, I want to provide the K-State community with my sense of what these next steps might be to enhance the economic impact of a fully operational NBAF laboratory.

Over the last several years, the cost of NBAF has risen substantially from earlier estimates given in 2009. Currently, the estimated “not-to-exceed” cost for laboratory construction is $1.25 billion and includes federal ($938 million), state ($307 million) and City of Manhattan ($5 million) funds. To date, $950 million has been appropriated at federal, state and local levels, with an expectation that the remaining funds will be included in President Obama’s FY15 budget proposal. The Kansas congressional delegation and Gov. Brownback have worked closely with K-State’s own Sue Peterson and Ron Trewyn to secure these needed funds. Thus, we can now move much of our focus towards how we can enhance the positive impacts of NBAF for the Manhattan region, instead of securing funding for laboratory construction. 

If you drive by the NBAF site, you have likely noticed that construction of the Central Utility Plant continues to progress. This facility is expected to be 87,000 gross sq. ft. and will require an additional 18 months to finish. The actual NBAF laboratory will be about 580,000 sq. ft. and is expected to be operational in 2021 or 2022. To get some sense of size, the final NBAF laboratory will be almost seven times larger than the utility plant and take five years to complete. While five years may seem like a long time, it is important we begin to put programs in place that can utilize the unique opportunities afforded Manhattan and the region with the location of NBAF next to K-State.

One of the key steps to help ensure the success of NBAF in Kansas will be to jump-start NBAF infectious disease research in the Biosecurity Research Institute, or BRI. To assist in this transition, the State of Kansas has pledged $35 million (at $5 million per year) in research funds to engage K-State faculty, staff and students in conducting research on up to five NBAF-related diseases including classic swine fever, African swine fever, Rift Valley fever, Japanese encephalitis and bovine pleuropneumonia. Work on the first three has already begun, and K-State personnel have conducted research in the BRI on a number of other biothreats as well. Indeed, the transition of appropriate animal infectious disease research to K-State is well underway, which will assist us in workforce development for the NBAF facility.

So, how do we economically leverage NBAF for K-State, the City of Manhattan and the region? If we consider some of our existing resources on the northern perimeter of the K-State campus, we already have a significant number of great assets in place, including the USDA Center for Grain and Animal Health Research, the Grain Science and Industry north complex, the future home of NBAF, the Biosecurity Research Institute and the new Kansas Department of Agriculture building under construction. When these entities are joined with a creative and dynamic faculty, a highly experienced staff and a diverse student population, we have a tremendous set of tools to help ensure that NBAF is a force multiplier for economic growth.

However, any new initiatives designed to enhance the economic impact of NBAF must also appeal to our entire campus community. While the presence of NBAF adjacent to campus will certainly have a direct impact on faculty, staff and students in agriculture, veterinary medicine and the life sciences overall, we need to ensure that the location of an absolutely unique $1.25 billion federal laboratory enhances all of campus. With this in mind, I would like to propose that we develop a university-wide Global Food Systems initiative mentioned earlier.

A K-State Global Food Systems initiative could examine issues in food production, food processing and storage, food distribution, and food consumption and protection. Virtually every academic discipline at K-State could participate in such an initiative; a university-wide research and scholarship initiative. To find ways to provide food for 9 billion people by 2050 is indeed a grand global challenge, and K-State is uniquely positioned to tackle such a daunting task.

Over the course of the next six months, we will be providing opportunities for the university community to shape this Global Food Systems initiative. K-State 2025, and being recognized as a Top 50 public research university, are preparing us for these types of challenges. I’m ready to get started. How about you?

Go Cats!

Kirk