CHAMPAIGN — Preliminary discussions have begun on where and how the University of Illinois will move its swine research facilities, some of which are located on land slated for future development in the university's research park.
A feasibility study is planned, although funding for the study, estimated to cost $300,000 to $400,000, hasn't been obtained yet.
The goal is not just to replace buildings where animals are bred, raised, operated on and housed, but to update and expand the facilities to allow for research on swine and other animals as models for biomedical research, according to Neal Merchen, professor and head of the UI Department of Animal Sciences.
"This type of research is key to the future of animal research at the University of Illinois, in my opinion," Merchen said.
A variety of biomedical projects are under way including, for example, developing methods for bone regeneration in people who have been injured or suffered injuries that have resulted in damage to their bones; looking into the relationship between nutrition in young, developing animals and learning and memory; and investigating reproductive abnormalities using pigs as human models.
Current swine facilities off Hazelwood Drive near Fourth Street extended, some of which was updated to comply with federal guidelines on the use of animals as models for biomedical research, are in demand by researchers. Projects are scheduled there through 2014, according to Merchen.
Relocation discussions so far have focused on the buildings south of St. Mary's Road and the I Hotel off Hazelwood Drive in Champaign and the swine buildings near South First Street and Curtis Road. The relocation plan will also likely affect the College of Veterinary Medicine Research Farm where some research and teaching is conducted west of Race Street, between Windsor and Curtis Roads, across from the Yankee Ridge subdivision in Urbana.
"This is all still in a fairly preliminary stage of planning. There's a lot of latitude on what the final plan might look like," Merchen said.
According to preliminary recommendations, a biogenetic and biomedical research laboratory for imaging, surgeries and other procedures, plus long-term housing for animals could be located west of the veterinary medicine research farm in new facilities off Lincoln Avenue extended between Windsor and Curtis Roads south of Urbana. A quarantine and isolation facility for swine, cattle and other animals is proposed for the northwest corner of Philo Road and Church Street, or Old Church Road extended, south of Urbana. A breeding and farrowing facility is proposed for about one-quarter mile north of Church Street and one-quarter mile west of Race Street.
Also planned is a nursery or finishing facility where swine born in the farrowing buildings would be housed. The preliminary recommendation for that facility would be in the middle of a parcel if Lincoln Avenue were extended, west of Race Street and between Curtis Road and Church south of Urbana.
Merchen estimated the cost of a feasibility study at somewhere between $300,000 and $400,000 and did not know how much the relocation and construction of the new buildings would cost.
"The study needs to be done in order to have a reliable cost estimate for the project," he said.
The earliest swine research facilities date back to the 1960s, others were built in the 1980s and over the years some updates have been made.
The research park master plan, reviewed earlier this week by the research park's board of managers, presupposes the swine moving out at some point, said research park director Laura Frerichs.
"We talked about a long-term vision for the consolidated facilities, how they might serve the interest of the Department of Animal Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine and other units on this campus as well as potential tenants for the research park," Frerichs said.
In recent years, the board and UI administrators have expressed a desire to come up with a relocation plan. Especially now that construction began this week on extending Fourth Street south of St. Mary's to Windsor Road, a project that will open more land to future development in the park.
As part of that road project, three smaller waste ponds or lagoons have been "decommissioned," meaning the hog waste was removed, applied on fields for fertilizer and the ponds filled with dirt.
Once the $4.9 million road project, which entails extending Fourth Street to the south and Hazelwood to the east, is completed, the park can then develop the land and market it to possible tenants.
Two other waste lagoons remain in that area, are still being used and are necessary to the swine operations, Frerichs said.
Another pond in that vicinity, a solar pond near First Street and Hazelwood Drive, does not store waste but contains water for an engineering project that involved generating heat from the pond. Conversations will begin on filling that pond as well, Frerichs said.