Rebuilding from devastation, a new home for a unique group of researchers

Vermont Agriculture & Environmental Laboratory, Randolph, VT

Imagine you’re a researcher and your life’s work is swept away in moments — all destroyed in a natural disaster of such magnitude that statistically should only happen once every 500 years.

That’s exactly what happened to the team of dedicated researchers who work at the Vermont Agricultural and Environmental Laboratory (VAEL) when Hurricane Irene hit their small town of Waterbury, VT in 2011. Within minutes, hundreds of gallons of water rushed into their facility. There was little the researchers could do but salvage whatever they could, carry on with their work, and begin to rebuild. The VAEL is a unique group of purpose-driven scientists — all of whom work to monitor, report and protect countless aspects of Vermont’s natural environment. Their meticulous research, often going unnoticed and under-appreciated, nonetheless translates directly to the health and wellbeing of the state’s residents. After spending years in temporary, disparate labs with minimal amenities and a lack of adequate space to perform their best work, VAEL and our design team created a standout facility that sets a new standard of operational and material sustainability for the state of Vermont.

The new building, located high on a rolling hillside on Vermont Technical College’s campus, safe from future flooding events, supports a myriad of different functions, including chemistry testing labs, a weights and measures unit, an animal pathology lab that includes a necropsy suite, a forest biology unit that houses an extensive specimen collection, a biology area with a BSL 2+ lab and numerous testing labs. Researchers now have a space to grow, experiment and thrive — continuing their work to protect and improve the lives of Vermont residents.

What’s on the horizon for resilient laboratories?

Discussions about resiliency in research environments are often focused on the redundancy of critical systems. Realizing how unpredictable weather patterns have become, how might we help research organizations better understand how climate change will directly impact their facilities in the years ahead?