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Posted June 29, 2012 by High-Profile Monthly

Providence, RI – Construction has started on the Rhode Island Blood Center’s new 20,000sf laboratory, a project that will allow the blood center to increase testing capacity while positioning itself to implement any new blood tests that may be developed or required. The laboratory is adjacent to the center’s main facility at 405 Promenade Street, Providence.

The new laboratory, which will test all blood donations for the Rhode Island Blood Center and many hospitals in Massachusetts, is the only one of its kind in New England. By building the new laboratory, the Rhode Island Blood Center continues its leadership in the emerging knowledge-based industries of Rhode Island and Southern New England.

“The new facility allows us to continue to serve the growing need for blood products’ testing services throughout the Northeast,” said Lawrence Smith, the Rhode Island Blood Center’s Chief Executive Officer. “We’ve had remarkable growth over the last seven to eight years and our ability to meet the ever more complex requirements of providing a safe blood supply will ensure continued growth in the future”

“The Rhode Island Blood Center plays an important role in our state’s health care system,” said Michael Fine, M.D., director of the Rhode Island Department of Health. “The Center is an important Rhode Island-based organization that has put a front-and-center focus on the state’s critical need for a reliable supply of blood products. This new testing laboratory is an investment in the good health of all Rhode Islanders.

Smith said the center currently employs nearly 400 individuals, and anticipates that in time the new facility will add jobs. The $8 million project, Smith said, is self-funded, not reliant upon taxpayer dollars.

The architect is Vision3, and the construction company is E. W. Burman, Inc.

The Rhode Island Blood Center was founded by the hospitals in Rhode Island in 1979 to develop a more efficient system of collecting, testing and distributing blood products. Over the last 33 years it has established itself among the leading blood collection agencies nationally, and has grown to a full-service regional blood center, providing testing, collections, marrow and cord blood programs, as well as in-hospital patient programs. All labs and donor testing services are fully licensed and accredited.

The Rhode Island Blood Center’s Donor Testing Laboratory performs all infectious disease tests on donated blood mandated by federal regulatory agencies. The Imunohematology Reference Lab and the DNA/HLA Laboratory (human leukocyte antigen) provides sophisticated cross match services for hospital patients. RIBC also operates the only Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing (NAT) laboratory for donated blood in New England.

Therapeutic Patient services include red blood cell exchange, Bone Marrow Processing, Therapeutic Plasma Exchange, Peripheral Blood Stem Cell, Directed Lymphocyte, Platelet Depletion, White Cell Depletion, and Granulocyte. Additionally, the Rhode Island Blood Center works with Dendreon, a Seattle based company that has developedProvenge, a drug that treats patients in the late stages of prostate cancer. The Rhode Island Blood Center’s Marrow Donor Program is recognized among the leading programs nationally, registering more than 11,000 individuals annually.

Three years ago, the Rhode Island Blood Center, in cooperation with Women and Infants Hospital, opened New England’s first public cord blood program. The program has collected more than 4,000 cords, with eight used in life-saving transplants.

In 2010, the center became the first blood center to test selected blood donations for Babesia, a tick borne disease similar to Lyme disease.

The design of the building is based on the programmatic functions and workflow of the laboratories. Similar to an assembly line, there is a complex procedure of which the blood product needs to be brought into the building, tested, processed, stored, than distributed to local hospitals.

Architect Keith Davignon, AIA, Principal at Vision 3 Architects said, “One big challenge was that there were several existing buildings on the site, none of which were suitable for adaptive reuse for a laboratory, and two of which were deemed of moderate historic significance by the City of Providence (one of those had been badly damaged by fire). As the site is in a historic district, it was a lengthy process to obtain approvals from the City to demolish the non-historic buildings, and the damaged historic building. The one remaining historic building, which is right on the street, has been integrated into the design of the new lab, acting as mechanical space at the basement level, lab offices at the ground level, and future office expansion space on the second floor. Because of the project being situated in the historic district, the design of the new building needed to complement the surrounding buildings in the district, with design approvals being required by both the Planning Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission. The site was also a brownfield, with contaminated soils requiring the site to be “capped”, and the design needed to minimize the amount of soil leaving the site.”

He continued, ”One unique feature of the building is a central clerestory window designed to bring natural light into the interior work areas of the building, which otherwise would be cut off from the outside world.”

Ed Burman, Jr., President of E W Burman remarked that EWB has worked for RI Blood center in past on smaller projects. “This project is like a breath of fresh air. The R.I. construction market has been in a depression for the last two years, unemployment running over 20%. EWB partnered with the local Carpenter’s and Laborer’s and their Market Opportunity Funds and pursued the project aggressively,” he said.

Construction on the new building is estimated to take from 18 to 24 months. Besides the new 20,000sf building, the Blood Center is renovating a 2,600sf historic building that is on the property.