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Washington University to build $616 million neuroscience building in Cortex

Washington University to build $616 million neuroscience building in Cortex

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ST. LOUIS — Washington University is beginning construction of an 11-story, $616 million neuroscience building that will centralize university brain research, inspire novel collaborations, and take up most of a block in the Cortex tech district.

The 609,000-square-foot facility will be among the nation’s largest neuroscience research buildings, university officials said in their announcement on Friday, and will initially bring together more than 100 research teams focused on solving matters of the brain and the body’s nervous system.

“Everybody is really excited about this,” said Dr. David Holtzman, head of the department of neurology.

More than 900 researchers and staff members will move into the building by late 2023, from the School of Medicine’s neurology, neuroscience, neurosurgery, psychiatry and anesthesiology departments.

Chancellor Andrew Martin said the building will add to the faculty’s contributions to understanding brain development, nerve cell communication, neuroimaging, and neurological diseases and disorders such as Alzheimer’s and cerebral palsy.

“With this new building, we are able to offer the neuroscience community a central home and a laboratory environment that can inspire entirely new concepts that allow us to grasp a much deeper understanding of the brain and have a global impact on health and science,” he said in a statement.

The building, at the southeast corner of Duncan and South Newstead avenues, will extend Washington U’s medical campus eastward, to the western edge of the Cortex Innovation Community, a hub for technology and biological science research and development. A university-owned parking lot and an Ameren electrical substation now occupy the site.

International architecture firms Perkins and Will, based in Chicago, and CannonDesign, founded in Buffalo, New York, and with an office in St. Louis, are the building’s designers. McCarthy Building Cos., of Ladue, is overseeing construction.

Part of the building’s high cost results from the need for extensive air-handling equipment in laboratories. To isolate microscopes and other sensitive research devices from vibration, the building’s heating and cooling systems will be installed in an adjoining structure.

The university plans to finance most of the yet-to-be-named building through taxable bonds.

Existing medical school space vacated by neuroscience researchers who move to the new building will be reoccupied by researchers in other medical fields.

As part of the project, the university will extend its network of elevated, enclosed walkways to the neuroscience research hub. The new building will have event space, a large seminar room and a food service area. The project includes a parking garage with a capacity of 1,860 vehicles, large enough to accommodate the building’s employees and those working at nearby structures the university might build later, officials said. Workers will be encouraged to use the Cortex MetroLink station. The neuroscience building will have bicycle storage for employees.

Dr. David Perlmutter, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs, said work done at the facility will produce new research initiatives and partnerships.

“Understanding the brain is key to addressing some of the most devastating afflictions that affect mankind,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “So many of us have been touched by the inexorable decline of our loved ones due to diseases and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, brain trauma, glioblastoma and severe mental illness, and we have learned that the development of effective therapies has proven formidable.”

The research center will be expected to encourage health-focused commercial applications with business developers at Cortex, university officials said.

In addition, the center will build on The Brain Research Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative — or BRAIN Initiative — begun in 2013 by the National Institutes of Health to increase understanding of the brain and brain disorders. Several research projects led by Washington University investigators and funded by The BRAIN Initiative will be based at the new neuroscience building.

The building will feature research “neighborhoods” and a shared area on each floor to spur conversation and collaboration, officials said. Research themes will include addiction, neurodegeneration, sleep and circadian rhythm, synapse and circuits, and neurogenomics and neurogenetics.

“Shell space” within the building will be finished later to accommodate more research teams and a total of about 1,260 employees, Jennifer Lodge, Washington University’s vice chancellor for research and a member of the Cortex board, said in an interview.

“When we put this building up and fill out the shell space, this should support much of our research needs for 10 years,” she said.

The university’s board of trustees approved the project on Friday, and expected to break ground in the afternoon. Construction was set to begin immediately afterward.

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Tim Bryant is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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