NIH plans massive overhaul of Bethesda campus

The National Institutes of Health has big plans for its Bethesda Campus — 500 pages of plans, to be specific.

The agency released a 20-year master plan for the 300-acre campus. The plan includes everything from replacing buildings to clearing traffic congestion to changing landscaping.

All of this, of course, depends on a critical factor — the agency’s future budget.

Ricardo Herring, director of facilities planning at NIH, estimated if everything in the master plan were completed, it would cost about $5 billion. NIH hasn’t submitted the plan to Congress just yet. Before that, Herring said NIH looks through the plan, prioritizes various aspects and then starts to put together a budget request.

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“We go through a very intense review process,” Herring said on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

NIH, along with other agencies, is under pressure from Congress to reduce operating costs. To do that, the agency proposed transforming older research buildings into administrative space and replacing outdated laboratory facilities with newer ones.

“Some of our facilities are functionally obsolete,” Herring said. “They’re not suitable for today’s state of the art science.”

Under the plan, NIH would construct 17 new buildings, with a total of 4.5 million square feet of space. It also proposed increasing the workforce by 3,000 employees and contractors, which could increase traffic by about 3 percent.

“That is negligible, as far as congestion is concerned,” Herring said. “For the last 20 years, we’ve been reducing our congestion during peak hours.”

He said NIH has reduced congestion through measures such as telework, alternate work schedules and infrastructure improvements on the campus.

“It’s huge,” Herring said. “It’s a city.”

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