Story by Chris Graham
OK, so they have a bigger building – a much, much bigger building.
But the fanfare over the formal opening of the new Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Harrisonburg Regional Laboratory and Office is about more than additional space.
“There have been a lot of concerns that people have about the safety of foods. Things that we take for granted about food safety, maybe we don’t take for granted so much anymore – concerns about whether somebody might try to do something to harm our food supply, terrorists or others. And so having strong labs like this so that we can create confidence among consumers that their food is safe is obviously a very, very important priority. Having a state-of-the-art facility like this can create that confidence in Virginians that their food supply is safe,” Gov. Tim Kaine said at Wednesday’s grand opening for the new VDACS regional lab and office facility on Mount Clinton Pike.
The $7.3 million, 23,661-square-foot facility opened for business on Oct. 29. It replaces the 15,000-square-foot building on Reservoir Street in Harrisonburg that the office had operated out of for years.
The selling points for the new lab and office complex is the additional square footage devoted to lab services – at 14,750 square feet, it has nearly 60 percent more space for lab work that features a high-security testing room equipped to handle anthrax and West Nile Virus, a necropsy room with a two-ton hoist that can be used to lift large animals and a lab-services unit for farmers and veterinarians.
Kaine hopes the lab and office in Harrisonburg can become the prototype for similar facilities across the state in the years to come.
“The consumer demand for food safety is going to continue to increase – and so I would suspect that this is going to be a little bit of an example that we’ll probably copy elsewhere,” Kaine said. “There’s a lot of capital needs across the Commonwealth in terms of new facilities from different agencies – so I don’t have a plan right now as to when the next lab might be improved or renovated. But just knowing the way the population looks at food-safety issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’d have to continue to invest significantly to upgrade the quality of the lab operations that we have.”
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.