VAI Begins Expansion

GRAND RAPIDS — The Van Andel Institute broke ground Thursday on a $170 million Phase II expansion that will triple its laboratory space and allow for a broadened research focus that includes neurological disorders and other chronic illnesses.

Over the next two and a half years, an eight-story, 240,000-square-foot addition will be built on to the institute’s existing facility on

Bostwick Avenue

, expanding the facility to 402,000 square feet. The addition will be on the west side of the facility, fronting

North Division Avenue

. It’s slated for completion in 2009.

“This finally completes the first part of the dream,” said CEO David Van Andel.

The expansion will open the doors to 550 new positions. When the facility is fully built out, fully staffed and operating at capacity, it will employ 800 researchers and administrative staff whose work will be supported by a $125 million annual budget. The institute is funded by a combination of its endowment, research grants and private philanthropy.

With more labs and with a larger research team, the VAI will advance new initiatives in basic and translational research, Van Andel said. The institute will be able to move more aggressively into research related to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease, for instance, in addition to some other areas of cancer research.

U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, said he has been trying to convince Congress for more than 10 years that the future success of the nation’s economy depends on two major factors: stimulating and subsidizing research throughout the country and doing a better job of educating Americans in math and science.

“You don’t know how proud I am that after all that preaching, the primary example of what has to be done is right here in my own district — in the Van Andel Institute. I’m delighted to see them expand,” Ehlers said. “Couple this with MSU’s expansion, the MSU Ph.D. program; we are not only building buildings, we are building programs, research efforts and people.”

Ehlers referred to the VAI as a “mini United Nations” because its researchers hail from 17 countries in addition to the United States. In that sense, he said, the institute has helped broaden the community by bringing in other cultures and other perspectives.

As part of the ceremony, Michigan Sen. Bill Hardiman, R-Kentwood, presented David and Carol Van Andel and VARI Director of Research George Vande Woude with a tribute from members of the Michigan Legislature.    

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