- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

BALTIMORE (AP) — The National Institutes of Health is considering “extensive” renovations to an older research laboratory because of vibrations that could throw off sensitive scientific equipment in a new $250 million lab, says agency Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni.

Dr. Zerhouni acknowledged the severity of problems at the new Biomedical Research Center in Baltimore in a letter to Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, which was obtained by the Baltimore Sun.

Miss Mikulski, Maryland Democrat, inquired about the project after the newspaper reported in October that sections of the new building could not be used as intended because of the excessive vibrations.

The older facility being considered for renovations is the Gerontology Research Center. Dr. Zerhouni wrote that the agency is “currently exploring renovation options” for it.

Details about costs or the extent of the renovations were not included in the letter.

The Biomedical Research Center is a 10-story building on the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus with 500,000 square feet of offices and labs. It was designed to house government scientists doing research on aging and drug abuse. The new building’s groundbreaking was in October 2004.

Before that, government scientists at the National Institute on Aging complained that cost cutting had compromised the facility’s design. Documents obtained by the newspaper described concerns that vibrations and other problems could impair research.

Dr. Zerhouni also wrote that early measurements indicated problems, but that follow-up studies showed the building met the design’s specifications for vibrations.

Specialists say vibrations tend to decline in buildings as walls and other features are added at the end of construction.

Dr. Zerhouni included an addendum to his letter answering Miss Mikulski’s specific questions. He wrote that a “large number” of instruments are significantly more sensitive than the building’s design criteria allow.

He was not specific about the number, but a consultant’s presentation obtained by the newspaper indicated that more than 150 instruments needed to be protected from vibrations.

“The existing Gerontology Research Center, which requires extensive renovation to meet the requirements of [a] modern research laboratory, can house the NIA research that would not work in the new building,” Dr. Zerhouni wrote.

A Mikulski spokeswoman said the senator is satisfied with the agency’s review.

Kenneth Drake, project manager for CUH2A Inc., the Princeton, N.J., firm that finished the design of the building, said scientists were surveyed about their needs before construction started. He said the facility meets the criteria they gave.

Mr. Drake also said the building was “state-of-the-art in many ways when it comes to vibrations.” He blamed scientists’ complaints on a reluctance to move to new offices, which might have less space.

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