Construction at the under-construction National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan has faced another delay due to longer-than-expected system installation and testing processes.
“These are things that we really can’t rush and won’t rush,” says NBAF Coordinator Dr. Ken Burton. “And so the timeline’s been adjusted to reflect that.”
The $1.25 billion facility will replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. Manhattan was chosen as the location for the level-4 biosafety laboratory in 2009 following a national selection process running for three years. Initially planned to be owned and operated by the Department of Homeland Security, in 2019 it was decided to transfer the facility to the US Department of Agriculture — though the two federal departments will maintain a working relationship in regards to NBAF.
Once open, NBAF will be a central location in the US for testing infectious agents and their potential impact on animal agriculture. Current plans slate construction to wrap in Spring 2022, with the facility being fully commissioned by the summer.
The facility has faced delays amid the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing back project completion and commissioning on multiple occasions now.
“In the meantime, USDA and DHS are making the most of this time by transferring operational functions of the facility one piece at a time,” says NBAF Communications Director Katie Pawlosky.
Pawlosky says after delays in 2020, officials began exploring the possibility of implementing technology upgrades prior to opening the facility rather than after. Many systems were chosen during preliminary work in 2012 prior to construction beginning and prior to new working conditions brought on by COVID-19.
Officials are hopeful that the various system upgrades will help avoid potential future delays to opening or operating the facility.
“We’re also dedicated to making sure that we’re utilizing the most cutting edge technology,” Burton says. “We need the best diagnostics, research and training possible for our scientists and for our people.”
NBAF also debuted its new chief of safety, health and environment management (SHEM) on a recent edition of KMAN’s In Focus. Anthony Rodriguez says the job is both a challenge and a reward.
Rodriguez comes to the positions having most recently been the safety administrator at the medical center for federal prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. He says that facility houses on average around 1,000 inmates with a staff of 650.
“Having worked there for quite some time, I rely on that experience for the occupational health portion of what we do.”
Rodriguez says his unit is responsible for ensuring compliance with various levels of government safety regulations. He has many goals entering the position, namely a successful and safe opening of the facility and to set a standard of safety for other research centers.
“To give you an example of this, SHEM is working to implement systems — be it software or otherwise — which would make it easier for NBAF employees to be able to interface with SHEM at all hours of the day,” says Rodriguez. “No matter what the shift is, day of the week, or whatever the request is.”
For more, check out the interview in our In Focus archives here.

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