Officials are preparing to break ground on an $8.5 million expansion and renovation of the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar, Minnesota.

A ground-breaking ceremony for the lab expansion will be held December 21 at the Willmar Community and Activity Center, reported the West Central Tribune.

When completed in the fall of 2016, the new facility will provide a stronger defense against future outbreaks of the avian influenza.

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The existing 3,665-square-foot laboratory was put to the test in 2015 during the avian influenza outbreak. Cases of avian influenza were confirmed at 108 sites in Minnesota in 2015, affecting an estimated 9 million birds.

Operated by the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, the 20-year-old lab runs tests on garden variety poultry diseases but it has never been equipped to test for the highly pathogenic H5N2 avian influenza. Because of that, couriers had to drive to the University of Minnesota’s diagnostic lab in St. Paul twice a day during the peak of the state’s avian influenza outbreak to get samples tested. In addition, some samples were even sent out of state to manage the overload of work.

During the construction process, the lab will temporarily be housed at an off-site location.