D.C. crime lab on target for 2011 opening

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Local,Michael Neibauer

Only one issue - money - stands in the way of completing the District of Columbia's critical crime lab on the promised timeline, a key official in Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration said Friday.

Neil Albert, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, confirmed that Fenty will request $31.14 million from the federal government in fiscal 2009 to fill the last funding gap in the $219 million project. The remaining dollars, including $28 million already collected from the feds, are waiting to be spent.

The promised 2011 opening date for the facility, which will feature a forensics lab, a bioterrorism lab and the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, remains on schedule, he said.

"There are no other impediments," Albert told the D.C. Council's public safety committee, chaired by Council Member Phil Mendelson, D-at large. "That project I think is moving ahead pretty well, at least on schedule."

Mendelson remained unconvinced.

"I heard nothing today that changes the fact that they are not going to meet the opening date announced for the consolidated lab," he said.

The lab is considered essential to helping D.C. police clear a backlog of thousands of unsolved rapes and homicides dating back to the late 1960s. It also is key in preparing the city for potential biological or chemical attacks.

Besides money, another hurdle for the crime lab will bethe relocation of the Metropolitan Police Department's First District headquarters, which currently stands on the future site of the lab in Southwest. Albert said his office has found a preferred location for 1D, one that can be built out quickly enough to keep the lab timeline on track. He would not provide further details.

The First District, among four other MPD divisions, was slated to move into 225 Virginia Avenue SE, a vacant building that D.C. is currently leasing for $546,000 a month. But the Fenty administration scrapped the plan several months ago, citing cost and parking issues.

"We believe a well-intentioned former administration made a deal that I can't in good conscience advise the mayor to adopt," Albert said. "Right now the issue for us with 225 is what to do with it."

Mendelson called the lease on 225 Virginia "quite economical." The rent is fixed for 20 years, he said, and the District has an opportunity within five years to purchase the building for roughly $80 million, which is below market rate.

mneibauer@dcexaminer.com

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