BLACKSBURG — Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced this week his plan to issue $2.43 billion in bonds that would support, among other capital improvements, significant expansion of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. The governor also called for new classrooms and research space in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering.

The bond package, along with the rest of the two-year budget the governor will announce later this month, is subject to General Assembly approval.

Michael Friedlander, executive director of the research institute, was invited to speak at the announcement in Richmond.

“It is a distinct honor to be here today and hear the strong commitment that Governor McAuliffe’s administration has made to the state’s biomedical and health research enterprise,” Friedlander said. “The researchers at our state’s great universities and the private sector scientists in the commonwealth are among the very best in the world. The investments that you have announced today send a clear and strong message to the state’s and nation’s scientific and business communities that Virginia has stepped up to take the lead and build boldly on past successes.”

Friedlander cited the return on investment on the state’s initial support of the institute, which opened just over five years ago. The investment, he said, has already yielded an economic impact of a quarter of a billion dollars and the creation of more than 200 jobs. The research expenditures have returned a five-to-one ratio on the investment, with the establishment of 25 research teams, the world’s premiere interactive brain imaging network, the development of a rapid and precise test for autism, and new diagnostics and treatments for brain cancer, addiction, cerebral palsy, childhood infections, and sudden cardiac death.

In his remarks, Friedlander touched on the Brain State Initiative, a collaboration of pioneering research programs at Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, George Mason University, and Carilion Clinic to address disorders of the brain. These disorders – including Alzheimer’s disease, depression, autism, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, addiction, and post-traumatic stress disorder – cost an estimated $1 trillion a year in the United States alone.

“As one great integrated research network, we are poised to be among the leading enterprises in the nation as we address the singular most devastating group of disorders to afflict our citizens,” Friedlander said. “Moreover, this model of collaborative research between our universities will expand into other areas of health.”

The bond investment, if approved, will build upon the successes of the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, the cornerstone of the Virginia Tech Carilion partnership, with a focus on areas at the cross section of health sciences and technology, said Virginia Tech Provost Thanassis Rikakis.

“This opportunity would allow increased participation of faculty and students from all relevant academic areas including social, human and natural sciences, veterinary medicine, agriculture, natural resources and the environment and engineering, all working in tandem with an expanded number of clinicians and researchers from the Carilion Clinic and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine,” he said. “With such an opportunity, the expanded partnership can engage established industry and potential start-up companies in its research and commercialization ventures and create a positive economic impact for the region.”  

The governor’s bond proposal also includes the second phase of a Central Chiller Plant, which supplies chilled water for cooling to campus buildings, and renovation of the College of Engineering’s Holden Hall.

Built in 1940, Holden Hall serves as a base for two College of Engineering departments, Mining and Minerals Education and Materials Science and Engineering. The building's renovation and expansion is expected to include three full floors with new classrooms, research labs, and faculty and graduate student offices.

“The renovation and expansion of Holden Hall is key to educating students from around the world who are seeking a hands-on, minds-on education in engineering,” said Richard C. Benson, dean of the College of Engineering. “Our mining department has a fantastic record of placing undergraduate students in jobs throughout the world, more than 90 percent. Our alumni work in far more sectors than coal. They extract clay, crushed stone, sand, phosphates, copper, salt, and natural gas. The cell phone in your pocket would not be a reality without the kind of materials extracted by alumni who were educated at Virginia Tech.”

The renovated space will feature, according to Erik Westman, interim department head of mining, open-space labs with glass walls that allow visitors and passersby to see students and mentor faculty at work. One of the largest programs of its kind in the nation, the department is at capacity with 165 undergraduate students and roughly 40 graduate students. The department plans to add to its faculty and staff as undergraduate enrollment ticks upward to 200 students during the next five years.

“We greatly appreciate Governor McAuliffe’s support, and his strategic focus on these key areas,” said Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands. “Expanding Virginia’s engineering workforce and developing a national destination for bioscience research can advance economic development across the commonwealth, in keeping with Virginia Tech’s land grant mission. We look forward to working with the Virginia General Assembly as the budget process unfolds in the coming weeks.”

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