Sorenson Foundatin donates $15 million

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

With a $15 million donation from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation, the U will start construction on a new biotechnology building in spring 2009.

The building will house researchers employed under the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative, which the Utah State Legislature approved two years ago to stimulate the economy through research and business development. It will be the first building to be constructed as part of a new USTAR conplex.

“What we’re doing here in the state of Utah is taking the crown jewels that are developed at the university, and giving them an opportunity to be developed further,” said James Lee Sorenson, whose father, James LeVoy Sorenson, died in January 2008 after years of work developing and marketing inventions and opening the foundation to encourage further growth within the U and other centers.

The donation is part of the Capital Campaign, the U’s goal to raise $1.2 billion for all facets of the campus, including research, scholarships and sustainability efforts. The public phase of the campaign kicked off on Saturday.

USTAR needs the new building because space is becoming tight on campus. More than 15 researchers have been recruited to the U, and even though the U purchased an old pharmaceutical company’s building last year to house some of the new researchers and make do until a new building could be completed, more space is needed if the U plans to hire more USTAR researchers.

“It’s really important to take research from the laboratory and commercialize it to help with the economic impact in the state, and that’s what USTAR is able to do,” Sorenson said.

The Sorenson family has donated $33 million to the U, which has included a multidisciplinary center for the David Eccles School of Business and a new arts and education center.

The 193,000-square foot James L. Sorenson Molecular Biotechnology building will be the first of four buildings placed on an “interdisciplinary quadrangle” on 11 acres of the what has been the U golf course, which will be closed after the season ends in November.

Besides housing USTAR researchers, the building will have an advanced nanofabrication facility, lab space and conference rooms to stimulate discussion and collaboration between researchers.

With the donation, the U is only $4 million short of having raised the $130 million needed for the building. The Legislature gave $100 million for the first building, intending for the U to raise the rest.

“It’s the first of what will be a series of buildings to connect campus,” said U President Michael Young. “(We hope it) will encourage a free flow of interdisciplinary work.”

Richard Brown, dean of the College of Engineering said the new building’s location, between the Warnock and Merrill engineering buildings, and the medical complex on upper campus, could help encourage work between researchers and engineers.

“There’s a lot of collaborative work being done on campus,” Brown said. “With the artificial eye project at the Moran Eye Center, engineers are building a device for people who are blind8212;a device giving them some sight.”

Engineers take the technical work from researchers and design devices the average person can use, Brown said.

The collaboration falls in line with the intent of USTAR, which was to bring in world-renowned scientists from other universities to continue their research at the U and Utah State University. USTAR has worked hand in hand with the Office of Technology Venture Development at the U to take research and market it.

Young estimates an early completion date of the building in the next 29 to 30 months. Construction crews are estimated to break ground in late winter for plumbing and water pipe work that needs to be done, since the golf course was not designed for the infrastructure requirements of a building.

The nine-hole course, which was 18 holes in the 1950s before the School of Medicine and other research buildings were built on upper campus, has seen its final days.

Young said that besides the USTAR buildings, about 10 intramural tracks and other fields will replace the course, which will make the space available to more than a few dozen people who use the course each day.

“How cool would it be to have 500 students hanging out in this space playing sports?” Young said. “One of the things we really lack are 10 to 20 intramural fields. (The) goal is to take that space and (utilize it for) more people.”

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