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After years of delay, the Army has awarded a contract to build a new Life Science Test Facility at Dugway Proving Ground to test defenses against some of the deadliest germ warfare agents known to man.

The Army awarded Tuesday an $18.56 million contract to Phelps Construction Co. of Irvine, Calif., for the project, according to the office of Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah.Dugway spokeswoman Carol Fruik said the Army had taken bids for the test center two years ago, but all bids came in higher than the amount budgeted for the building. So the Army had to seek congressional approval to reprogram the facility.

Fruik said the new building will replace and upgrade facilities at the existing Baker Lab - built in the 1950s - and will contain a "bio-safety level 3" lab that allows it to work with some of the deadliest germs known, but for which antidotes or treatments are available.

Fruik noted that the current Baker Lab has a similar BL-3 lab.

She said the new facility is neither for production or general research, but for testing and evaluation of battlefield germ detection and identification equipment and for refining protection and decontamination systems.

Army contract announcements said special requirements for the building include an aerosol chamber, special ventilation to maintain directional airflow into containment suits, a treatment system for contaminated liquid waste and an "intrusion detection system."

Demolition of three existing buildings is included in the contract.

Fruik said Dugway is planning a groundbreaking ceremony at the end of September. The building is scheduled for completion by April 13, 1997.