TAYLORSVILLE — State officials broke ground Tuesday on a new Unified State Lab, slated to open in October 2009.

"This is a banner day for Utah," said Utah Department of Health director Dr. David Sundwall, at a celebration/ground-breaking at the site, 4500 S. 2700 West. He said that "work in the lab affects every Utah citizen every day."

The 81,000 square-foot "all-hazards preparedness" facility will be home to screening for newborn disease, air, water and soil testing, chemical and bioterrorism preparedness, alcohol and drug testing for more than 200 law enforcement agencies, toxicology testing for the state Medical Examiner and other functions. Future plans call for folding in lab functions from the Departments of Agriculture and Food, as well as Public Safety and the Office of the Medical Examiner.

The building will replace a facility on the University of Utah campus that was constructed in 1972. It was funded by the 2007 Legislature.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. described an "extraordinary" cross-jurisdictional undertaking where "public safety collides head on with quality of life." And he noted that it embraces the changes that have come to the role of public health in a "post-9/11 world."

The building is different from typical state construction in that it requires a combination of elaborate security measures, safety requirements such as a particular type of ventilation system and other add-on-features, according to Sundwall.

Scott Becker, director of the national Association of Public Health Laboratories, said it is a "very forward-thinking" building that is "exactly where we need to go as a country," coordinating and collaborating on public health functions.

Becker pointed to boards showing the artist renderings of what the building will look like, but said the celebration is also about "what you don't see." The greatest public health successes are often those that are invisible — the people who don't get sick because of public health efforts, the terrorism averted, the children spared debilitating conditions because of early screening.

The $31 million project is being designed and built by VCBO Architecture, Smith Group and Big-D Construction. The project is overseen, as a state project, by the Utah Division of Facilities Construction and Management.

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