Stuff.co.nz | AgResearch hub remodelled for Lincoln
June 19 2015
AgResearch’s soon to be built science hub programme will look much different from the operation first envisaged, writes Tim Cronshaw.
AgResearch is about to put out new master plans as more science and agriculture partners join its vision for innovation clusters at its main Lincoln and Palmerston North hubs in a nationwide $100 million restructuring programme.
Originally the research organisation was going to build its science centre for its Future Footprint programme on new ground connecting to the Lincoln University campus with the wider Crown Research Institute precinct.
However, a master plan being worked on at the moment will densify science activities on the university campus and bring together nearby areas for businesses.
Among the shared facilities by the different groups are expected to be laboratories and shared workplaces could be part of the science future.
Sharing some facilities containing DNA sequencers and other $1 million equipment is crucial and science leaders are determined to make full use of science gear and bring the costs down in a more collaborative environment.
Chief executive Tom Richardson says AgResearch stands to gain more from basing its science at the university campus and “co-locating” its scientists with other partnering staff than building outside of the campus on a “greenfield” site.
He says changing the building plans will be worthwhile as it is a one in a 50 year project and important to get it right and had led them to question the value of completely owning costly buildings.
The look of the hub is much different than the precinct plan originally envisaged although the science areas and staffing levels first tallied for Lincoln will remain the same.
“It is a lot more complex than building on a green patch of dirt and we are now involved in Lincoln University in bringing down the first of their earthquake building. The Hilgendorf is coming down as we speak and in that area is where the AgResearch and other buildings will go in stage one.”
Science teams will continue with an “on-farm” focus in farm systems and genetics with more expertise combined between AgResearch and university staff.
“The new buildings will have both AgResearch and university staff in them where it makes sense and sharing laboratory and pieces of infrastructure right in the middle of the university campus.”
AgResearch’s new master plan, still being finalised, will include a building schedule and timetable. The programme to densify the hub at the university campus has the support of the Lincoln hub founding partners of Dairy NZ, Lincoln University, Plant & Food Research and Landcare Research.
The research organisation put out its Future Footprint reinvestment programme in 2012. The original business case was to relocate scientists and staff around the country to main hubs and linking with universities and other industry groups to create innovation centres. The new master plans appear to have taken this a step further and embrace more science partnerships.
Under the programme Lincoln hub is generally focusing on farming environmental science and will take in the animal science teams mainly from Invermay and other campuses. The other large hub at Palmerston North also has a farm systems component and will be the food research centre for Food HQ with another master plan looking at putting joint facilities on the Massey University campus.
Ruakura and Invermay campuses are shrinking. Hamilton’s Ruakura campus of about 100 scientists will retain farm systems and environmental science particularly aimed at dairying in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty areas. Invermay has been a lightning rod for opposition and a decision was made about 18 months ago to retain its farm for getting the environmental balance right for dairy through the new Southern Dairy Hub and look at farm system opportunities for sheep and beef farming in the hill country.
“We hoped by us taking that step it would catalyse others,” says Richardson. “With the biggest hubs like Lincoln we have done exactly that and catalysed a lot of folks to think about what we can create at Lincoln. What that means is a growing interest in business partners joining in to look at relocating at the Lincoln hub. For AgResearch we are looking at a very different building plan than when we originally wrote for the business case.”
The reinvestment programme has required many scientists mostly outside of the main hubs to uproot from their homes and previous workplaces.
About 230 scientists and staff will be moved to accommodate the programme which is proceeding without forced redundancies, says AgResearch.
A few have gone ahead of schedule to Lincoln where there is more room to accommodate them and this will continue over the next few years.
The final dates for the revised building schedule will be updated by August.
Richardson says the project is likely to be completed in the 2017-2018 time range.
“It’s not a massive delay, but its worthwhile doing it right.”
He says AgResearch will be hosting national science challenges, including Our Land and Water, at the new Lincoln facilities.
New Zealand needs the best science team across the organisations to complete top science at the shared facilities, he says.
“We will see more and more of that. No one can afford to do things in duplicate or let things fall through the cracks so it will be much more efficient use of facilities and attention to bring the right teams together regardless of the brands they wear to the problems.”
The university connection will allow it to connect to talented post graduate students.
Richardson says AgResearch is in a tight budget environment and has to get “more from less”.
In 2012 the total budget for the nationwide programme was just under $100m and this will be updated by August to allow for the revised building programme which will possibly factor savings from other groups taking on some of the building ownership.
Whether the revised investment programme will be more expensive remains to be seen.
Richardson says laboratories sitting empty previously can be much better used by more science teams sharing them and this is better than organisations carrying substandard facilities. Some laboratories containing extremely sensitive and expensive equipment will have to remain secure, he says.
Beyond stage one a future programme will go to the Government this winter and is likely to bring in buildings for commercial dairy, meat and seed and other partners.