Keeping biological agents at bay

CUH2A wins defense contract to secure weapons of mass destruction in former Soviet states.

By: Gwen McNamara
   LAWRENCE — During the Cold War, the former Soviet Union had nearly 60,000 scientists working at hundreds of facilities in Russia and the former Soviet states on an offensive biological weapons program.
   But after the fall of the Soviet Union, that network of laboratories and facilities deteriorated after political and economic unrest took over the region, leaving samples of diseases like the plague or yellow fever unchecked.
   Today, spurred by the risk that such biological materials could end up in the wrong hands, Lawrence-based architectural and engineering firm CUH2A has joined an international team with a plan to make sure that doesn’t happen.
   Ken Drake, principal and project director for CUH2A, outlined the firm’s involvement through a conference call July 15.
   Hired by Bechtel National Inc., CUH2A will be designing four new central reference laboratories to be built in Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as part of the Bioweapons Proliferation Prevention Program, managed by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).
   DTRA safeguards America’s interests from weapons of mass destruction, namely chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-explosive threats. The agency’s bioweapons program is a cooperative effort between the U.S., its allies and several international health organizations.
   "The aim is to make it possible to safely store and study biological pathogens," said Mr. Drake. "The current facilities that exist are dilapidated and the ability to secure them is low. Often the labs have no mechanical ventilation, fresh air or air conditioning.
   "It’s not uncommon for someone to just open a window to let in some fresh air," he continued. "And with the economic situation, rolling blackouts or power disruptions happen all the time. By creating centralized, safe storage and study space we’ll be putting people out of risk."
   The entire project began around two years ago when the DOD selected Bechtel National, a McLean, Va.-based division of engineering giant Bechtel Corp., as prime contractor.
   Bechtel initially hired CUH2A as a consultant, given the firm’s extensive background in designing science and technology based facilities, but recently decided to bring CUH2A on as a "full-fledged team partner," Mr. Drake said.
   "We were awarded a $2.5 million contract in connection with the program and concept design of the four labs in the three countries," he said. "The contracts with the individual countries are still being negotiated, so I can’t really comment on that."
   CUH2A has four separate teams currently working on the design of each central reference laboratory, which will include internationally certified diagnostic and repository space.
   A team of about 40 people at the firm’s Lawrence headquarters is working on the design of the labs for Georgia and Uzbekistan.
   About 20 people in the company’s London office are working on two facilities to be built in Kazakhstan — a new Human Health Central Reference Laboratory in Almaty and a support veterinary building in Otar.
   Construction of the veterinary facility is expected to begin this year. Construction of the Almaty lab is expected to start in April of 2005. No time line has been set for the laboratories in Georgia or Uzbekistan, Mr. Drake said.
   "This is a very exciting time for us at CUH2A," he said. "We’ve always been focused on a science and technology base — we don’t do solely office — and now we’re taking that expertise from the national to the global level. It’s all part of our strategic vision."
   The projects in Georgia, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan represent the firm’s first venture into the former Soviet Union.
   "We established our London office six years ago and have been doing work in that region with pharmaceutical companies and other private entities for some time," Mr. Drake said. "We’ve done work in Japan for Pfizer and designed sites in France, Germany and the United Kingdom."
   On the homefront, CUH2A is working a number of projects, including the National Institute of Health’s Rocky Mountain facility, a new building for the Center for Disease Control and a national bio-containment lab at Boston University.
   In New Jersey, CUH2A,which has been designing lab space for government, educational and industrial groups for more than 40 years, has designed several leading public health and technology facilities in Newark and New Brunswick.