ummc-aerialSpecial to Find It In Fondren  (Bruce Coleman, UMMC)

Every morning, Dr. Richard Summers hears an unavoidable reminder of the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s research future.

From his office in the Verner Holmes Learning Resource Center, Summers can’t escape the staccato clank, thud or high-pitched whine of machinery as piles are driven deep into the earth to support the Translational Research Center right down the street.

It’s a two-year building project that is especially important to Summers, because he knows that throughout his tenure as associate vice chancellor for research, this will be his one chance to ensure the institution’s discovery enterprise claims a progressive footing in the business world.

“We envision this will be the last research building built on this campus for the next 20 years,” Summers said of the $43 million, six-story, 106,104-square-foot facility that will soon rise in what was Lot 3A just north of the Arthur C. Guyton Research Center.

Chris Burney, executive director of planning, design and construction, said while the foundation work for the Translational Research Center is on schedule to be completed in October, the detailed structural drawings for the remainder of the building are being finalized now so that bids can be put out and construction can begin soon after the center’s underpinning has been completed.

Summers said the Translational Research Center is going to be unlike any other research building on campus.

“We’re looking for that connectivity between what happens in the basic science world and how it can be potentially implemented in the corporate realm,” Summers said. “We’re going to try to foster some of that translational work.”

The translational research center will serve as a welcoming beacon for potential industry partners seeking to take the Medical Center’s latest medical discoveries to market.

For example, if a UMMC scientist were to discover a potential cancer treatment for which the Medical Center acquires a patent, a business partner could provide the venture capital, arrange clinical trials, obtain Food and Drug Administration approval and ultimately push the discovery into the clinical world quickly, safely and efficiently.

The main thrust of this effort will take place in an area on the second floor called the “Incubator,” a specially designed space where science and industry can interact.

“A lot of academic health science centers have incubators associated with their campuses,” Summers said. “It’s a place where you can take a good idea and grow it.

“We hope this will help move basic science research to more clinical trials.”

Joining the translational research effort will be the Memory Impairment and Neurodegenerative Dementia (MIND) Center, a major clinical care initiative that seeks to elucidate the causes of and treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia. Located on the first floor, the MIND Center will be conveniently accessible for research subjects, many of whom are elderly, while clinical neurologists will benefit from the service-line approach to research afforded by the translational environment.

Areas tailored for neuroscience research — including dry lab space (where applied mathematical analyses can be done on computer-generated models for population studies) and wet lab space (for more classic bench-top experiments with biological materials) will take up the third floor. Biostatistics and shared classrooms and administrative offices will be located throughout the first and second floors, and the basement will feature a vivarium to house the neurobiology laboratory animal facility. The top two floors will consist of “shell” space for future industry partners to inhabit.

“The grounds are designed – particularly the back side — for researchers to enjoy sitting outside, perhaps having a picnic and discussing things,” Summers said. “The concept for the whole building is to promote interaction.”

Burney said Foil/Wyatt Architects were handed an almost impossible task while developing a concept for the Translational Research Center’s exterior.

“We challenged the architects to design a building that has a unique character, but make the building fit in with the newer buildings on the campus,” Burney said. “The decision to continue a sense of continuity was challenging, but I think they achieved it.

“We’ve managed to get to a place we need to be that is commensurate with what other leading institutions are doing.”

While its importance to the future of the Medical Center is unquestionable, the Translational Research Center isn’t the only construction project taking shape on campus. Directly east of the building, in what was Lot 3 on campus, major electrical, gas and other services lines for the Medical Center are being relocated to make way for the new School of Medicine building.

Similar to the Translational Research Center, the School of Medicine building will be constructed in phases. Burney said the service line relocation is on schedule to be completed by the first of the year, which will allow Medical Center leadership time to bid the next phase and start constructing the School of Medicine building in early 2015.

The Meridian
Burney said UMMC’s property across Lakeland Drive will be turned over to SKD Development, LLC, the developer of the Meridian at Fondren complex, no later than Wednesday, Oct. 22. Offices are being made available for employees still working in buildings scheduled to be demolished to make room for the mixed-use development of apartments, offices and retail space. The developer’s goal is to have some of the apartments available to rent by August 2015 with the entire project to be completed by Christmas 2015.

After extensive excavation work, Burney said the area due east of the School of Dentistry building has been cleared for the construction of Parking Garage C. He said he anticipates the Medical Center will be able to start construction of the garage in early 2015, with a targeted completion date of one year or less.

“The hardest thing for us is getting (construction proposals) through all the various reviews and having all the ‘I’s dotted and ‘T’s crossed,” he said. “When all of that is in place and we’re actually in the construction phase, it seems like things go more rapidly and more smoothly.”

For Summers, the Translational Research Center couldn’t be built fast enough. Construction sounds aren’t his only reminders that the new research space will meet a growing need on campus.

“I hear from our researchers every day about their need for more labs and more places to meet,” Summers said. “Everyone is so anxious to get this building completed, to expand our research and develop relationships with industry.

“There’s a lot of industry that would like to interact with us. In the future, we hope this will be a foothold for them to do that.”