April 25, 2011

Federal Government Budget Rescinds $21 Million For CALS Research Facilities

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Already coping with a significant reduction in state funding, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences was dealt another blow on April 15 by the federal budget agreement, which rescinded $21 million in federal funding for two planned CALS research facilities.

Although the design phase for the facilities has been completed, construction of the research stations — the Center for Grape Genetics Research in Geneva, N.Y., and the Robert W. Holley Center for Agriculture and Health in Ithaca — is delayed indefinitely as Cornell returns the money, which was given to the University in five separate allocations between 2005 and 2010.

Because Cornell had been waiting to collect enough money to proceed with construction of the facilities, the unused money was taken back by the government as “unobligated funding.” In addition to the $21 million that will now be returned to the government, the University needed $12 to $14 million to construct the Center for Grape Genetics Research and $40 million to finish construction for the Holley Center.

University administrators lamented the cuts, part of a $229 million nationwide reduction to the Agricultural Research Service’s Buildings and Facilities budget, which supports construction of laboratories for ARS research.

“This is probably the most negative outcome of the budget,” said Robert Buhrman, senior vice provost for research at the University. “The possibility of building hasn’t necessarily been lost, but the funds for construction either come from the state or the federal government, and, given that action, all we can do is restart making the case for the investment.”

“CALS is very disappointed about the loss of funding for these projects,” said Kathryn Boor ’80, dean of CALS. Although the New York State budget passed March 31 preserved funding for construction projects in Stocking, Warren and Rice Halls, CALS administrators said they are grappling with a 10 percent state reduction in funding for Cornell’s statutory colleges.

With several research facilities close to capacity, the new laboratories would have relieved constraints on research space in Ithaca, Buhrman said. USDA researchers, who would have helped staff the new facilities, currently occupy various buildings at Cornell, including Weill Hall and the Biotechnology Building.

Dianne Miller, director of federal relations, said that the new facilities would have created space for Cornell researchers and furthered the positive collaboration between Cornell and USDA.

“Lab space is at a premium right now. Everyone has to be temporarily housed somewhere,” Miller said, adding that some USDA staff have been moved to laboratories on Tower Road.

Thomas Burr, director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, also said the new facilities were necessary to offset researchers’ growing need for additional space.

“[It is] really important that we have this facility built sometime,” Burr said. Currently, scientists work from offices and laboratories at Cornell’s experiment station in Geneva, which Burr said was not sufficient for work they conduct.

Scientists at the Geneva station study the grape genome, how it influences grape production and its potential resistance against diseases and insects. The researchers use this to create varieties that produce higher quality wines, are easier to grow and are better for the environment and the economy, said Prof. Bruce Reisch, horicultural sciences.

“The cuts that we are seeing will have a great reduction in new varieties [of grapes] and in efforts for genome discovery … In the end, it is a sad picture for those in the grape industry,” Reisch said.

Burr said that while he was disappointed the funding was rescinded, he remains hopeful. Because of the quality of Cornell and USDA scientists working on the project, there is widespread support for the Center for Grape Genetics Research, he said.

“The national grape industry wants it to happen, Cornell has been extremely supportive … and we are certainly not going to give up,” Burr said.

As budget proposals for fiscal year 2012 emerge, Miller said there is a lot of work ahead for the office of federal government relations to ensure Cornell receives support for research.

“We’re going to continue to make the case that our students are important, that our faculty are important and that the University is an important constituent of New York state so we prove that our sources of funding are worth fighting for,” she said.

Mike Morosi, press secretary for Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), affirmed Hinchey’s commitment to the USDA projects.

“Right now, things don’t look good for the future. We’re really starting from scratch,” he said. “We’re going to … remain committed to make it a reality at some point in time.”

Original Author: Akane Otani