Missouri Legislature funds two new state labs in Jefferson City

Two new state laboratories are slated to be built in Jefferson City, pending the governor’s final approval of the state budget.

Missouri legislators this session appropriated $104.6 million for a revamped crime lab at the Missouri Highway Patrol General Headquarters and $78.6 million for a multi-agency One Health lab near the Missouri State Penitentiary.

Funding for the labs has been consistent throughout the budget process as both chambers of the General Assembly adopted the governor’s recommendations. Both labs will be funded through federal COVID-19 relief dollars supplied through the American Rescue Plan Act passed by Congress last year.

The crime lab at the Highway Patrol’s General Headquarters, located at 1510 E. Elm St., was designed and built in the 1970s and can no longer meet the demands of modern forensics.

Operations at forensic labs have “changed dramatically over the years,” the department noted in its budget request, and the crime lab at the Highway Patrol HQ “has limitations which hamper productivity, efficiency and the adoption of new forensic technologies.”

The lab received more than 30,200 cases in 2019, but outsourced sexual assault kits and toxicology services because it lacked the resources and capacity to meet demand.

The crime lab can’t process fentanyl and other new drugs because it doesn’t have a complex ventilation system to maintain employee safety, according to the agency’s budget request, and DNA examinations require pressurized rooms to avoid contamination.

“Other in depth analysis in cases including homicides has forced the Patrol to restrict property crime evidence submission to mitigate demand,” the request continues.

Because the crime lab can’t be redesigned any further to meet new needs, the state appropriation will fund construction of a new 140,000-square-foot lab, which will also serve as a combination research and development facility.

The $104.6 million state appropriation will be spent over the course of four years and pay for architectural design, construction, and equipment and supplies.

Project design is projected to cost more than $9 million and take place from July through October 2023. Construction would begin in November 2023 and continue through December 2026. Construction costs are projected to be $86 million and equipment and furnishings are expected to be $9.5 million.

Construction of the multi-agency One Health lab near the Missouri State Penitentiary will follow a similar timeline if approved by the governor.

The One Health lab is a joint effort between the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS), Department of Agriculture (MDA), Department of Conservation (MDC) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR), all of which are out of room in existing labs or lack a centralized location for research.

DHSS runs the State Public Health Laboratory off Chestnut Street, which MDA utilizes space in for its Animal Health Laboratory, according to budget request documents. MDC’s Wildlife Laboratory isn’t contained in a single facility and doesn’t have the capability to conduct comprehensive testing.

DNR operates an Environmental Quality Laboratory off Riverside Drive, but the facility was constructed more than 30 years ago and will require $8 million in maintenance and repair over the next decade.

“These issues are causing continued expenditures for building repair and/or inability to provide appropriate state laboratory services and anticipated new services,” the budget request states.

The Legislature appropriated $78.6 million to construct 87,000 square feet of new lab space by the State Public Health Laboratory off Chestnut Street, resulting in a two-building laboratory campus by the Missouri State Penitentiary to be utilized by researchers from the four state agencies.

MDA’s Animal Health Lab, MDC’s Wildlife Lab and DNR’s Environmental Quality Lab will be stationed in the new building, allowing the State Public Health Lab to expand into the space currently occupied by MDA and shared areas of the new facility.

The additional room provides each agency’s lab with the same amount of space they currently occupy, as well as a 30 percent expansion for MDA, DNR and MDC and a 30 percent expansion for the State Public Health Laboratory, according to the budget request.

With the state employing one approach to human, animal and environmental laboratory testing, the departments are expecting to share information, technology, expertise and equipment. According to the budget request, a single campus would provide more efficient action on diseases that transfer from animals to humans, such as avian influenza, and from humans to animals, such as Foot and Mouth Disease.

Recognizing fundamental differences in each agency’s facility needs, priorities and technical requirements, the request states the One Health campus is not an effort to consolidate labs.

The lab will cost a projected $75 million to construct and another $3.4 million to relocate ground crews and expand parking lots and utilities.

According to the timeline outlined in the budget request, architectural design is expected to be complete by December and construction is scheduled to begin by March 2023. The project would be complete by December 2026.

The Highway Patrol declined to comment on the construction of the new crime lab. DHSS and the Office of Administration, the agencies leading efforts on the One Health lab, did not respond to requests for comment.

• HB 3020: Appropriation


Sponsor: Rep. Cody Smith