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Published: Friday, 3/16/2012

BGSU to get $11.9M state forensics lab

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine
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COLUMBUS -- Attorney General Mike DeWine plans to replace northwest Ohio's crime forensics laboratory now housed in a Bowling Green strip mall with an $11.9 million, state-of-the-art facility.

But the new Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation lab will be built on the campus of Bowling Green State University, not the University of Toledo as was proposed by one of his predecessors.

A $1.7 billion, borrowing-fueled budget for brick-and-mortar projects across the state includes the funding to build the lab at an undetermined location on the BGSU campus. The school sees an opportunity to tie state testing of DNA samples, ballistics, and other criminal evidence to its academic programs.

BCI Superintendent Tom Stickrath said the plan to site a lab on the Bowling Green campus evolved independently and was not a reworking of the proposal from former Attorney General Marc Dann to move the lab to UT's Health Science Campus.

"This started a year or so ago," Mr. Stickrath said. "In visiting our Bowling Green lab, we realized we were outgrowing that space … It's not just a laboratory. We have our agents' offices there. They do polygraphs …"

There are no architectural designs yet. Preliminarily, the state is looking at a structure with 35,000 to 40,000 square feet. The current leased space near the university holds 19,000.

Mr. Stickrath said he and Mr. DeWine were committed to keeping the lab in that community.

"Marc Dann tried to take the crime lab out of Bowling Green several years ago,'' said Rep. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green). "There was a battle to keep the crime lab more accessible to law enforcement three to four years ago. We won that argument before this announcement. This will allow us to enhance further what we already have in Bowling Green."

Though the structure would be built on university property, the state money, backed by bonds, would flow through the attorney general's office. In addition to serving as a lab, there is discussion about including some sort of classroom setting.

"We obviously have strong academic programs that could align nicely with a lab on campus," said BGSU spokesman David Kielmeyer. "We're just beginning to look at the opportunities, but our strengths in biological sciences, chemistry, and criminal justice could be a natural fit and an opportunity for our students to contribute."

In 2008, Mr. Dann, a Democrat, said he wanted to relocate the northwest Ohio lab from its rented location to UT at the site of the former Medical College of Ohio. He voiced support for locating such labs in urban settings, where much of the crime they are investigating occurs. BCI is based in London, Ohio, with labs in Bowling Green and Richfield.

At the time, the state was looking at a 44,000-square-foot building, more than double the lab's current space. The preliminary price tag was then $9 million, nearly $3 million less than what is now being proposed.

Soon after Mr. Dann announced his plans, he was forced to resign amid a sexual harassment scandal involving high-ranking members of his staff. His Democratic successor, Richard Cordray, placed the move on the back burner.

Mr. Stickrath said the new lab is needed because of expansion that has already occurred at the existing rented facility as opposed to anticipated growth.

"We thought, with a partnership with the university, that they might be able to work with us in terms of chemistry standards, even in the robotics we use," he said. "I think this is an opportunity to elevate the field of forensic science in Ohio. That is Mike DeWine's and my vision, for Ohio to be a true leader in forensic science."

He noted that often it is out-of-state schools that produce the advanced degrees in forensic science that BCI seeks.

Mr. DeWine, Mr. Cordray's Republican successor, called the arrangement with BGSU a "win-win situation" that will help to train "the next generation of forensic scientists and investigators.''

The capital budget proposed by Gov. John Kasich includes $350 million for construction and renovation projects on public university and college campuses across the state with the emphasis on maintenance rather than new construction. The schools worked together to set their own priorities, knowing that this proposal will barely make a dent in a funding backlog of $5 billion in needed infrastructure improvements.

"Starting in [fiscal year] 1997-98, in order to meet this need and as a result of decreasing state capital funds, Ohio's higher education institutions increased their reliance on local capital resources by almost 400 percent, thereby increasing pressure on tuition, which has risen at a rate nearly double the rate of general inflation for nearly a decade," UT President Dr. Lloyd Jacobs told the House Finance and Appropriations Committee on behalf of the Inter-University Council of Ohio.

"Higher education, while still a great value, is nearing a point where it will price itself out of the market," he said.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.



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