The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory provides state-of-the-art testing and research in support of Maine agriculture, wildlife, and public health. The lab’s major renovation and expansion, designed by WBRC Architects Engineers in partnership with Perkins + Will of Boston, was made possible through an $8 million state bond referendum. The 28,000 GSF facility houses the highest-level containment laboratory of any higher education institution in the state of Maine.
UMaine’s Diagnostic and Research facility includes the Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory, with space and equipment to perform investigative necropsy procedures on large animals; the Pest Management Unit, which offers Maine’s only tick identification service, and the Aquatic Animal Health Lab, currently under expansion through a separate $2.1 million marine bond.
The nature of the laboratory’s work with pests and pathogens means that safety is a top priority. The WBRC/P+W team’s key task was to maximize safety and mitigate risk by programming a series of bio-secure safeguards to protect laboratory personnel and the surrounding community. The facility contains all the biocontainment, biosecurity, and biosafety measures needed for the laboratory’s variety of testing and research work through the strategic placement of entries, safety features, equipment, infrastructure, and protocols.
Different lab processes require different levels of biocontainment, biosecurity, and biosafety. The project team’s careful arrangement of independent labs is designed to meet customized requirements depending on the nature of each lab’s work. For the biocontainment area of the building, safeguards include a secure, restricted entry system with interlocking doors, pass-through cabinets and autoclaves, class II biosafety cabinets, hands-free sink and emergency eyewash stations, sustained pressure differential directional airflow, and n+1 redundancy in both exhaust and supply systems. Throughout the building, space planning helps promote use of personal protective clothing and equipment, sanitary practices, and authorized access.
Another key design objective was to optimize lines of sight inside the facility and to the outdoors.
Prior to this complete renovation, none of the existing laboratories had views to the exterior or to adjacent laboratories. Now the innovative use of interior windows drives sightlines through one lab into another, allowing researchers to see into adjacent laboratories and circulation corridors, as well as providing views from deep within the facility to the bucolic landscape outdoors. This fresh approach to transparency fosters and promotes well-being, teamwork, and security, and allows for safe observation of biologically-sensitive processes.
Lighting and adjacencies were also planned carefully to support visual accuracy, safe handling of materials, and optimal flow of personnel. Color-coded walls, hallways, and signage help with both wayfinding and creating an identity for the various departments that occupy the facility.
While much of the space is restricted, public outreach and education remain an important part of University of Maine Cooperative Extension Diagnostic and Research Laboratory’s mission. Inside the main entrance, a skylit lobby performs triple duty as a waiting room, classroom, and informal meeting area. The facility’s off-campus location, just off I-95, makes the delivery of samples and specimens quick and convenient for the professionals statewide who depend on the laboratory’s vital services.