The Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) is officially opening its new $55 million forensic lab on the grounds of Washburn University today. The 100,000 square foot building houses the Bureau’s state-of-the-art crime lab and replaces the existing facility located in the basement of a former Topeka school building.
“We have more than 70 scientists and technicians working in our new building,” according to KBI Lab Director Mike Van Stratton. “We serve as the crime lab for the entire state but we’ve been working in tight quarters.”
The new building has specific areas reserved for each department of the lab including biology, DNA, toxicology, chemistry, firearm/tool mark, latent prints, trace evidence and digital forensics.
“We also have an area specifically for vehicle processing and plenty of space for evidence storage,” Van Stratton said. “Our people are absolutely thrilled with the facility.”
In addition to housing KBI’s forensics operation, the new building houses an expanded forensics program for Washburn University. In addition to the existing forensic chemical science degree – which includes an emphasis on forensic chemistry and biology – the university recently added concentrations in digital forensics and forensic anthropology as well as forensic investigation to the Washburn course offerings.
“Forensic science is a growing field and our graduates will be in great demand,” said Washburn University Vice President of Academic Affairs Randy Pembrook. “We have already seen an uptick in applications as a result of the new coursework and we expect those programs to continue to grow.”
The students will work in labs similar to those used by the KBI forensic scientists, Pembrook said, and they will share common space including a crime reconstruction space and a 100 seat auditorium.
“We also look forward to having KBI scientists as guest lecturers and experts in our classes and our faculty members are available to provide their expertise to KBI as needed,” Pembrook said. “Best of all, we expect many of our finest students to start their careers right in this same building – eventually going to work as KBI forensic scientists and technicians.”
This new building is the result of a great partnership between the university, KBI and the City of Topeka, Pembrook said. The Topeka Public Building Commission financed the project and rent paid by KBI will eventually retire the bonds.
“We wanted this new lab to stay right here in Topeka and we wanted it on our campus,” Pembrook said. “This lab is one of only a handful of working forensic labs on university campuses and the only one we know of where the lab and the university share space to help educate students.”
Those who will be on hand for the dedication include Governor Sam Brownback, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, KBI Director Kirk Thompson, Topeka Mayor Larry Wolgast and Washburn University President Jerry Farley. The ribbon cutting will also recognize the work of PGAV, the selected architectural firm and McCown Gordon Construction, the general contractor for the project.
The building will be open for a special public open house on Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.