A Grand Opening | Beaufort County Now | Ribbon is cut on ECUís new Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building

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    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Ken Buday.


Chancellor Philip Rogers, ECU Board of Trustees members and other dignitaries cut the ribbon to officially open the new Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)


    Chancellor Philip Rogers, ECU Board of Trustees members and other dignitaries - with gold-colored scissors in hand - cut the ribbon Thursday to officially open the $90 million building that will serve as an interdisciplinary research space for faculty and students. The four-story building on the corner of 10th and Evans streets will be the new home of ECU's Department of Biology, which instructs 17,000 students each academic year and has outgrown its current space in the Howell Science Complex.

    It will also be home to the new Eastern Region Pharma Center, which is working with five regional community colleges and 15 pharmaceutical companies to promote workforce development to meet industry demand through a $1.9 million grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation.

    "We talked about this facility being a hub," Rogers said. "It's a hub that reaches out and extends out to the very best of what East Carolina University has to offer. It's the very best of who we are and strikes right to the heart of our DNA.

    "(Former interim chancellor) Ron Mitchelson said this is our mission at work, and we are living it, breathing it and feeling it, and we're going to fill it up with some of the best people we have on this campus and across the region. This is our future."

    The 141,500-square-foot facility features bountiful lab spaces, faculty offices and meeting and classroom space. Students and faculty in biotechnology, bioprocessing engineering, biophysics, environmental engineering, biofuels, plant biology, imaging and sensor development, and environmental biology all will have a home in the new facility.

    Dr. Allison Danell, professor of chemistry and dean of the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, said students would be conducting a wealth of research that would have far-reaching impacts on the region, such as a $5 million federal grant that will look at water-related issues for coastal communities.

    "Researchers in this facility will make new discoveries in the sciences and better train our students, and most of them will be a vital part of the workforce for this region in areas of health sciences, biotechnology and the environment," Danell said. "We really are creating something here that will have benefits for years to come."

    Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the College of Engineering and Technology, said the building is much more than just a space for research and learning. He said the structure represents ECU's commitment to maximize student success while partnering with industry to help transform the region.

    "We will pursue a 'grow local' approach to sourcing, developing and retaining the skilled workforce our industry partners desperately need to grow and thrive here," he said. "I'd argue that this Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building is as much a workforce development building as it is a research building. The commitment of space and equipment for pharma manufacturing and teaching labs on the first floor and the workspaces and amenities on the upper floors for our student researchers are an amazing statement about our commitment to student engagement, workforce development and maximizing student success."

    It is the first building to open on ECU's Research and Innovation Campus and serves as a link to the Intersect East project across 10th Street. That public-private partnership will feature a digital transformation center and will help expand ECU's workforce development in health care, advanced manufacturing and aviation maintenance repair.

    Dr. Michael Van Scott, interim vice chancellor of ECU's Division of Research, Economic Development and Engagement, pointed out the building's central location, not only in Greenville but also in the state. He said the view east points to ECU's main campus as well as the Coastal Studies Institute campus in Wanchese, while the view west includes the medical campus and reaches to the mountains in Sylva where the School of Dental Medicine has its Community Service Learning Center.

    "We have a statewide reach and a statewide impact," Van Scott said. "You can feel that as you stand in the center of this building. You can see the close connection between Intersect East and the main campus. It becomes a portal, a gateway for our community partners and industry partners to access our academic community."

    The building was funded through the $2 billion Connect NC Bond Referendum approved by voters in 2016.

    "We're going to get a solid rate of return on this investment in the form of education to the state of North Carolina," said Scott Shook, chair of ECU's Board of Trustees.

    On the top floor, an outdoor balcony provides a vista in which much of Greenville can be seen.

    "That view reminds me of the extensive reach that this gateway building will have for our campus and will have for our community and will have for our region," Rogers said. "We all know well that Greenville serves as a hub for economic development and industry in eastern North Carolina, not to mention the health care, cultural amenities and the many recreational opportunities that our community has to offer.

    It literally is a beacon for all of eastern North Carolina,"
he said. "This new Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building now ushers in a new era of that beacon of the east here at East Carolina University."

    Rogers said the building reflects ECU's mission to advance student success, public service and regional transformation.

    "We're a stronger campus and a stronger region because of this facility," he said.

    Construction on the structure started in 2019. Despite poor weather, the pandemic and its resulting economic shutdowns and supply chain issues, the building opened within its planned completion window this fall. The construction manager at risk for the project was Rodgers Builders. The facility's primary design firm was Lord Aeck Sargeant, with other design partners including AEI, CLH, Lynch Mykins, The East Group and Thorburn Associates.

    Mark Phillips, vice president, statewide operations and executive director in the Eastern Region Office of the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, said the building would create opportunities for the ECU community and the BioPharma Crescent region that includes pharmaceutical manufacturing companies in Pitt, Wilson, Johnston, Nash and Edgecombe counties.

    "This new infrastructure will further strengthen the existing partnerships with these local pharma manufacturing industries, as well as the community colleges and high schools within the region," Phillips said. "Due to the continued success and growth of the life sciences in North Carolina, the opening of this building could not have come at a better time, as it will serve as an important asset for the various training and degree programs needed to support the increased workforce development needs within the industry.

    There is a lot of emphasis being placed marketing such careers in the pharmaceutical sciences, and providing career pathways for anyone, no matter where they may be in life," he said. "People tend to have the sense that everybody who works in pharmaceutical manufacturing must have a Ph.D., and that's just not true. There are hundreds and in some cases thousands of employees at these pharmaceutical sites. Many of the roles are attainable with a high school diploma, and/or certificate-based training programs, while others require and A.A., B.S./B.A. or graduate degrees. The point here is there is a very wide range of opportunity in the pharmaceutical manufacturing arena."
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