Originally published Sept. 29, 2011

The federal government recently denied funds to the Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) at Grand Valley State University, which has plans to expand its premises to alleviate overcrowding.

The institute submitted a grant proposal last April, but the funds for the program in which it was included were eliminated as part of the federal budget compromise. For faculty and interns conducting research through the AWRI, the rejection is a hindrance to freshwater studies.

“Overall lab space is tight,” AWRI Director Alan Steinman said. “We share labs, and some faculty members have their instrumentation split among different labs. This is not only inefficient but could compromise samples as they are moved about.”

The AWRI is an organization within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that conducts studies on water resources. With two research vessels, labs, classrooms and other facilities, researchers work to answer questions and educate the community about the various problems with and the ecological aspects of freshwater resources.

The institute currently occupies three buildings in Muskegon, but Steinman said its Lake Michigan Center (LMC), which houses laboratories, is too crowded for maximum productivity.

“The labs in the LMC were designed originally to accommodate four faculty members, but we now have nine,” he said. “This means in summer, our student interns — 19 this past summer — are packed tightly when doing lab work. During the rest of the year, the lab crunch is less of a problem, as they are used primarily by faculty, technicians and graduate students. It can still be crowded, but not as crazy as in summer.”

The director said the institute previously renovated the LMC with the financial support of GVSU, but the building has reached its maximum capacity for its plot of land and cannot be further expanded upon.

Officials at GVSU are now looking into renovating or replacing the field station building, a warehouse that currently stores field equipment, several offices and the AWRI’s mesocosm facility.

“(The field station) was never intended to be anything other than a storage garage, but we’re going to expand our research activities into that space,” said Jim Bachmeier, GVSU’s vice president for finance and administration.

Bachmeier added that rebuilding the field station building will be less expensive than reconstructing the LMC.

Although the federal government cannot finance the entire project, it awarded the university a $500,000 federal grant. Bachmeier said the project will heavily rely on donors.

“We will probably be able to fund two-thirds of the approximately $3 million project with external donations,” he said.

Bachmeier expects the university to begin the construction sometime in 2012 and finish in late 2013.

“If GVSU and the Annis Water Resources Institute are to continue to make a difference in solving the water resource problems facing West Michigan, the Great Lakes and the country, we must have the necessary resources,” Steinman said. “Space, filled with the best faculty and state-of-the-art instrumentation, is a critical need to make this happen.”

For more information on the AWRI, visit the website at http://www.gvsu.edu/awri.

Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2011/09/awri_expansion_delayed_by_federal_budget_cuts