Iowa State University is scaling down the size, scope, and cost of its proposed new Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory — touted as major support of Iowa’s economy — due to lower-than-requested state funding.


Instead of a 150,000-square-foot stand-alone lab for $124 million — $100 million of which would have been state dollars — the Legislature’s lower commitment of $63.5 million has Iowa State now looking at an 83,000- to 88,000-square-foot facility.


Iowa State this week is seeking Board of Regents approval to move forward with planning for that scaled-down project, and a regent committee this week recommend the full board grant it. If approved, the revised project budget will fall to $75 million, a 40 percent reduction from the original cost — coming close to the proposed square footage reduction of between 41 and 45 percent.


Under the original proposal, Iowa State vowed to commit $24 million to the project — $20 million in private donations and $4 million in university resources. The smaller budget likewise reduces those ISU commitments to $11.5 million — a 52 percent drop from its original goal.


Iowa State Interim Senior Vice President Pam Elliot Cain told regents on Wednesday the institution had little choice but to shrink the project’s scope and size due to insufficient state support. And she told The Gazette she assumed lawmakers knew that would result from lesser funding — which is coming in the form of $1 million this year and $12.5 million a year for the subsequent five years.


Iowa State had wanted $20 million a year for five years.


“That means we basically have to go back to the drawing board,” she said. “That’s a significant amount of dollars.”


She isn’t aware the university has communicated those changes directly with lawmakers. And Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, told The Gazette on Wednesday he has not been given the reasons for the changes.


Iowa State officials, in making the case for a new Veterinary Diagnostic Lab earlier this year, noted its massive return on investment for the state — which puts about $4 million toward running its only full-accredited animal diagnostic lab and gets back nearly $32 million in revenue in an average year.


During animal health emergencies — like the 2015 bird flu outbreak — income spikes to more than $100 million, and those emergencies are becoming more common, according to lab officials.


Although the ISU lab — the busiest of 14 like it in the nation — has been a standout for years, administrators warn its accreditation is in peril due to critical space deficiencies; biosafety and biocontainment issues; and ongoing maintenance needs for the aging facility.


Interim Dean of the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine Pat Halbur, in fact, recently told lawmakers he’s “very confident we won’t get accredited again” without improvements to the lab — which has seen activity exponentially spike. The more than 1.25 million tests it runs in processing more than 85,000 cases a year is double the numbers in 2009.


“The space and structural limitations of this aging facility combined with the rapid growth of the laboratory will, in the opinion of this site team, limit the laboratory’s ability to adequately respond to a large scale foreign animal disease outbreak,” according to a 2017 report from the accrediting agency, the American Association of Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Diagnosticians.


Lab Director Rodger Main told The Gazette earlier this year the lab most recently earned five years of accreditation in 2017.


“This re-accreditation in 2017 was granted in no small part due to the significant progress the accrediting body’s observed in ISU VDL’s efforts to address its facility infrastructure-related challenges,” Main said, noting movement toward a stand-alone lab is a big part of that.


If the lab lost accreditation, it would lose “Tier I Lab” status in the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, meaning it would no longer be authorized to “conduct testing that has official, regulatory, or program disease consequence.”


“Such official, regulatory, or program disease diagnostic services provided by the VDL are a foundational element in supporting Iowa animal agriculture’s ability to sell animals and animal products (meat, milk and eggs) into the global marketplace,” he told The Gazette in an email.


As part of Iowa State’s request of the board Wednesday, administrators reported plans to pursue “alternative delivery methods,” other than the traditional design-bid-build process.


Advantages, according to board documents, include maximum collaboration between design and construction professionals; increased competition among local contractors; and “a fast-track approach to design and construction that allows the university to begin beneficial use of the VDL facility as soon as possible.”


But some lawmakers have voiced strong opposition to alternative project delivery methods — which have been used with increasing frequency on the Board of Regents campuses.


“I am generally skeptical of design-build and other non-traditional methods, and the UI Children’s Hospital mess is exhibit A for that concern,” Sen. Quirmbach told The Gazette.