U of M Health Researchers Have New, Expanded State Fairgrounds Home
University of Minnesota health sciences researchers are always looking for subjects willing to participate in human studies, and they’ve found one very effective place to recruit them: the State Fair. That’s why visitors to this year’s event are seeing a brand new, expanded building housing the U’s “Driven to Discover” research outreach program.
The program is funded in part by the U’s Office of the Vice President for Research and its Academic Health Center. It has a mission of both showcasing the university’s research programs to the fair-going public as well as providing what has proven to be a super-efficient venue for corralling a diverse pool of participants for on-site human health studies.
Since it was set up in 2014, the existing Driven to Discover (D2D) building at 1397 Cosgrove Street has been used by 30 research groups from a wide cross-section of U of M departments, disciplines and campuses, researching everything from heart health to genetics to psychology to physical therapy. Some 45,000 fair-goers visited the facility last year.
But after three years running the studies out of a cramped, 1,400-square-foot building, last November school officials approved a plan to tear it down and partner with the Minnesota State Agricultural Society, owner of the Minnesota State Fairgrounds property, on the construction of a new D2D building at the same location.
The new structure is a roomier 2,720 square feet. The expansion, school officials said in documents submitted to the Board of Regents, was proposed “to accommodate thousands of more visitors, protect equipment, and serve as a showcase for University of Minnesota human subjects research.”
Under the deal, the U agreed to pay the Agricultural Society up to $440,000 to demolish the old building and construct the new one, which the school was to own upon completion. Also part of the arrangement is a 20-year ground lease for the Fairgrounds spot, with possible extension thereafter.
The new building is a slab-on-grade, post-frame metal structure with stone exterior cladding, including a front patio to provide the researchers and potential human subjects with a “greeting and interaction space.” It also boasts glass wall-to-wall windows at the main entrance, allowing the interior to fill with natural light.
The actual interior research spaces feature an open floor plan with movable partitions separating approximately 10 research stations. A small office area and storage space is included at the rear of the building. User fees for use of the 10 research stations will provide the funding for the ongoing license fees to the State Fair, operations and maintenance costs, which the school estimates at $13,000 per year.
The D2D building is being overseen by Logan Spector, an epidemiology professor at the U of M’s Masonic Cancer Center, and Ellen Demerath, an epidemiologist and community health professor with its School of Public Health.
“Studies at the Driven to Discover Research Facility cover many topics, from bullying in schools to high cholesterol in families, but all aim to improve the health and well-being of Minnesotans,” Spector said in a U of M blog post. “Having this resource at the Great Minnesota Get-Together brings research to the people, which is just what a land-grant University should be doing.”