Nova Scotia

Dal plans to rebuild agricultural campus building damaged by fire

It's estimated the construction work, and replacing all the furniture and special equipment will cost between $12 and $25 million. David Gray, dean of the faculty of agriculture, said it's too soon to speak about what insurance will cover.

Researcher says years worth of work has been lost, worries about long-term implications

More than a month after the fire at the Cox Institute, students and staff still haven't been allowed back in one wing of the building. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Dalhousie University is planning to rebuild the main building of its agricultural campus in Bible Hill, N.S., as the fire marshal continues to investigate the cause of last month's major blaze.

The Cox Institute building is structurally sound, but will need extensive work due to contamination, humidity and water damage from the June 20 fire, according to the university.

It's estimated the construction work, along with replacing all the furniture and special equipment, will cost between $12 and $25 million. David Gray, dean of the faculty of agriculture, said it's too soon to speak about what insurance will cover.

"Dalhousie does have solid insurance coverage as a member of the Canadian Universities Reciprocal Insurance Exchange, which is tailored to meet the need of academic institutions and is experienced in dealing with situations like this. So we're in very good hands," Gray said.

The Old Cox, which is the older wing of the Cox Institute, was heavily damaged. Work to repair it is expected to begin in September, with a target completion date of August 2019.

Faculty and students awaiting news on the fate of their research inside the Old Cox have not been allowed access due to safety concerns. Much of the teaching and research equipment, unless sealed, will not be salvageable, Dalhousie said.

Gray said students, staff and faculty with work in the New Cox wing have been allowed access that part of the building. A lot of specialized equipment in the wing has been moved and is being cleaned, he said.

But Old Cox is not yet accessible, Gray said.

"Due to the severity of the damage and the water damage and contamination, faculty, students and staff have not been able to get in there," Gray said.

Computer hard drives pulled out of the Old Cox have been sent to a data retrieval company. Staff will be given a photo catalogue of items in each room to decide if they are salvageable.

The cause of the fire is still being investigated. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

One researcher, who develops plant-based drugs to prevent cancer and other chronic diseases, said he and his students lost years worth of work.

When fridges and freezers lost power in the fire, many of the unique Maritime plant samples and products in Vasantha Rupasinghe's lab were ruined.

"Those things take years to generate," said Rupasinghe, a professor of functional foods and nutraceuticals. "The fire made a significant impact on our continuation of our research. But we are doing our best to recover."

For some researchers who were working out of Old Cox, he said, the fire will result in years of delay in their programs.

"That could hurt," he said. "We need to demonstrate the progress for our funding agencies, our industry partners. So that would be kind of an indirect impact of the fire."

Some graduate students will have to delay graduation by a semester or two to complete their theses research, said Rupasinghe.

Dalhousie administration is working with the insurer so researchers can purchase new equipment and get back on track, he said.

Some researchers lost almost all of their work and won't be able to start up again for a year while the building is being repaired, while others were barely impacted, said Rupasinghe.

The majority of classes will remain on campus this fall. Dalhousie is also leasing off campus offices and research space.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined. A spokeperson for the fire marshal said work at the campus has concluded, but the investigation is still ongoing.

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