CHARLESTON, W.Va. – After reviewing Governor Jim Justice’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget, Commissioner Kent Leonhardt released the following statement:
“I’m thrilled to finally see a line-item for laboratories within the budget bill, but I am disappointed that it’s only a soft commitment through the surplus section. With the Legislature looking to push historic policy changes, including record tax breaks, we need the same kind of enthusiasm towards rebuilding our labs. I am worried as we increase the overall budget by $200 million, spend down our ARPA dollars and pass these tax cuts, we will miss a once-in-a-generation chance to build state-of-the-art laboratories,” said Commissioner Leonhardt
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) conducted a study through ZMM Architects and Engineers in 2019 to determine the best location for a new WVDA laboratory. Since, Commissioner Leonhardt has been advocating for funding to be allocated to complete the project. The cost of the project has risen from $32 million to $74 million.
“We all agree that the conditions of our laboratory buildings are atrocious. That is why it is confusing, despite making it a part of his State of the State, the Governor put laboratory funding behind $250 million of surplus priorities. I am calling on the Governor and Legislature to appropriate funding through general revenue or a supplemental. We need to tackle this issue now before we see another crisis,” Leonhardt said.
In late 2020, the Legislative Auditor’s Performance Research and Evaluation Division compiled a report on state-owned laboratories. All information from the previous WVDA/ZMM report was provided to show the Department’s effort to address the issue. Since the report’s filing, the WVDA has worked with ZMM and CannonDesign, as well as six other agencies, to determine a plan for a co-located laboratory. The proposed solution appears to show a cost range of $796-$901/sq. ft., without providing the expansion space incorporated by the previous WVDA plan. In addition, it appears this proposal is more expensive than the estimated $600-$800/sq. ft. determined by the WVDA study.
“We look forward to having a real discussion about the construction of new labs. We have some grave concerns with co-location and not adequately funding the project for future growth,” Leonhardt said.
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture protects plant, animal and human health through a variety of scientific, regulatory and consumer protection programs. The Commissioner of Agriculture is one of six statewide elected officials who sits on the Board of Public Works.