Design flaws at the Georgia Poultry Lab in Hall County will require $4 million in fixes, Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black told state lawmakers this week.
The 39,500-square-foot laboratory facility, which opened in January 2015 at the Gateway Industrial Centre business park off Ga. 365 in North Hall County, monitors and tests for diseases, such as avian influenza, and inspects hatcheries to ensure the state’s poultry flock is healthy for consumption.
In an interview with The Times on Thursday, Black said the public is not in danger.
“They do not need to worry about whether the lab is compromised such that we cannot meet our mission,” he said. “We need to vaporize that myth. We have a couple of contingency plans.”
According to John Groves, a spokesman for the lab, air flow imbalances throughout the facility were discovered and particularly affected a 2,500-square-foot biosecurity, high-containment lab because the facility’s rooftop HVAC system sits directly above it.
The imbalances caused leaks, condensation and broken seals around the lab’s windows.
Groves said poor ventilation is to blame, and that it is a flaw in the design of the building, not in the construction.
FWAJDB, the architectural firm that designed the lab, filed for bankruptcy in 2013, according to state officials.
The high-containment lab was closed last June after employees began complaining of headaches, nausea and other discomfort caused by a bass-like low-frequency vibration emitting from the rooftop HVAC system.
“That’s what really got the ball rolling,” Groves said.
Operations in other sectors of the facility continue and daily testing of poultry stock has not been affected.
“What we are about is solving the problem,” Black said.
But without fixes, broader complications could arise, severely limiting research capacity and costing even more to remedy, Groves said.
“It’s going to be very difficult to do testing,” he added.
There has been no trickle-down impact, thus far, on Hall County’s poultry processing plants. State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, told The Times that he thinks the $4 million would likely be allocated in a two-step process, with some money for a redesign and some money for construction, “rather than all in one budget.”
“The poultry lab plays an integral part in protecting the No. 1 industry in Georgia,” Miller said, adding that making the fixes is an important item to the governor and legislature.
The Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission signed off on the design plans, and the Hall County Board of Commissioners agreed to allocate $10 million to build infrastructure at the industrial park so that the poultry lab could be developed.
Kubota Manufacturing and other businesses have since relocated to the business park, and an inland terminal serving the Port of Savannah has been announced for the park.
The poultry lab, which moved from its 1960s-era home in Oakwood a few years ago, “plays a really important role in food safety and thousands of thousands of jobs in Georgia related to poultry,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce. “That was a lead-off tenant in the park.”