VAI project on schedule

January 18, 2009
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Construction of the eight-story, 240,000-square-foot addition being built onto the west side of the Van Andel Institute’s existing facility is on time and on schedule for completion at the end of this year. Meanwhile, the search continues for a successor to Van Andel Research Institute Founding Director George Vande Woude, Ph.D.

VAI broke ground in April 2007 on the $170 million project, which will expand the institute from its current 186,000 square feet to 402,000 square feet and enable the VAI to broaden its research focus, triple its laboratory space and open its doors to 550 new research and staff positions over time.

When fully staffed and operating at capacity, the VAI will employ about 800 researchers and administrative staff, including researchers with the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, said VAI General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer Steve Heacock. MSU researchers will occupy one floor of the building, he said.

For the past 18 months, the institute has been focused on recruiting Vande Woude’s replacement. Vande Woude is staying on as a distinguished scientific investigator and as head of the Laboratory of Molecular Oncology. According to VAI spokesman Tim Hawkins, Vande Woude has been eager for some time to wind down his administrative duties and “get back to his first real love,” which is doing science on a full-time basis.

Once a new research director is hired, he or she will lead the recruiting effort for the additional scientific investigator positions, Heacock noted. He said the institute expects to have a new research director in place by year’s end, and that Vande Woude would remain in his administrative position as research director until a new director has been chosen.

The institute currently employs 250 scientists and support staff across 18 labs. Heacock estimates that about a quarter of the institute’s current scientific staff are foreign born, hailing from 17 different countries. The upcoming second wave of recruitment also will span the globe. 

“The building expansion is obviously important because we need the space: We don’t have any space currently for new scientists,” Heacock said. “But the key is to get the new research director in place, because we don’t want to recruit a lot of people who are not consistent with that person’s vision.” 

The new addition will house the Van Andel Institute Graduate School, which has been operating since fall 2007. The 70-seat conference center and 90-seat cafeteria that’s planned for Phase II, combined with the existing 325-seat Tomatis Auditorium and the Cook-Hauenstein Hall, will enable the institute to host major scientific research conferences, as well.

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