Corps of Engineers Helps USDA Usher in New Agriculture Research Era for Pacific Northwest

Washington State University (WSU) students in Pullman can expect to hear sounds of new construction at the former Johnson Hall site, as the next phase of its replacement begins spring 2024.

The new ARS Plant Sciences Building will house scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and WSU. Its construction will support the next generation of agricultural research in the Pacific Northwest between WSU and ARS, USDA’s chief scientific in-house research agency.

Replacing Johnson Hall aligns with USDA’s current science and research strategy, which establishes a scientific framework to transform the U.S. food system and support our nation’s farmers, ranchers, producers and foresters.

The project is one of two the USACE Seattle District Interagency and International Section (IIS) is managing on behalf of USDA ARS, providing technical assistance to non-Department of Defense federal agencies, tribal nations, states and local governments, international organizations and foreign governments.

IIS work involves planning, environmental assessments, design, and construction contract oversight for the contract awarded to the Hensel Phelps Construction and Anderson Mason Dale Architects design-build team.

Johnson’s Hall’s original main entrance fronts on Stadium Way, circa completion in 1961. The second largest building on campus when built, Johnson was home to more than half a dozen WSU and USDA research and teaching programs for more than 60 years. PHOTO COURTESY OF WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY MANUSCRIPTS, ARCHIVES & SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

WSU’s Johnson Hall was the fourth largest building on the Pullman campus and served as the university’s hub for agricultural research since 1960 before being demolished in late 2023 – the largest demolition in WSU history.

“The WSU funded demolition of Johnson Hall got a lot attention, and for good reason because of the agriculture advancements made there,” said IIS Section Chief and Program Manager Alan Manville. “Despite our full-service mission supporting civil works and military programs, we don’t get the chance to work on a major university campus very often and it’s been a great experience working with the ARS and WSU researchers.”

The fully federally funded $103 million USDA project will provide lab and office space for plant biosciences research programs conducted jointly by 15 WSU and 15 ARS scientists, continuing one of the nation’s most robust federal-state partnerships that originally began in 1931.

Nearly 100,000 square feet of combined laboratory and office space will support four ARS Research Units: Wheat Health, Genetics and Quality; Grain Legume Genetics and Physiology; Northwest Sustainable Agroecosystems; Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing.

Additionally, members of the WSU Departments of Plant Pathology, Crop, Soil Sciences, and Horticulture will share lab and office space with federal researchers.

Contractor’s drilling piles and foundation work are the next major construction milestones, said Manville. “With most projects of this magnitude, you see the construction fence go up and then it takes a while for the foundation and utilities to go in, but folks will really see progress once construction turns vertical.”

Manville expects to complete the project in early 2026.

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