Chancellor, ASUAF president discuss dining, housing, Sun Star

Andrew Sheeler/Sun Star Reporter
Nov. 8, 2011

(L-R) UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers and ASUAF President Mari Freitag took part in an open forum with students and faculty on Nov. 1, 2011 in the Wood Center. Fernanda Chamorro/Sun Star

A forum hosted by ASUAF President Mari Freitag and UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers drew a crowd of roughly 30 students, staff and faculty on Tuesday, Nov. 1. Forum topics ranged from construction and renovation projects to the university’s ailing power plant to a discussion of The Sun Star’s bid to separate from ASUAF.

Rogers started the forum by summarizing the many projects taking place across campus. He spoke about a plan to allot $400,000 to renovate the Student Recreation Center. Rogers also discussed relocating the main UAF dining facility and provided an update on the status of  the Outdoor Education CenterThe center’s ice-climbing wall is “just about ready to go,” Rogers said. Adjoining the center will be a terrain park, where skiers and snowboarders can perform tricks, that will be completed by next fall. 

“We would be the first university in the country to have a U.S. Terrain Park Council-certified facility,” Rogers said.

The chancellor finished by mentioning that enrollment was up this fall, “both in student credit hours and student head count,” as well as financial aid disbursement.

After Rogers, Freitag took the microphone and discussed ASUAF’s decision to reduce the Club Council to a committee and to directly provide UAF clubs with funding.

In the question-and-answer session, an audience member asked the chancellor was asked to clarify about the planned changes to UAF’s dining options.

Rogers said he wanted to see dining centralized inside the Wood Center and for the Lola Tilly to be transformed into a bookstore and a visitor center.

“We’re going to have something, maybe it’s a little radical, but the idea of a bookstore with parking,” Rogers said.

Later in the forum, Director of Auxiliary Services Robert Holden said dining changes weren’t limited to venue. He said UAF was pursuing sustainability options such as growing lettuce using hydroponics. In response to student requests, Holden said he and UAF Dining contractor NANA Management had worked to develop more vegetarian meal options.

If students have dining requests, comments or complaints, Holden urged them to contact him in his Eielson Building Room 116 office. He added that students should offer specifics, saying complaints like “The food sucks,” mean nothing to him. Freitag added students can speak with her if they don’t feel comfortable going to Holden.

With UAF dependent on its power plant for electricity and heat, Rogers addressed concerns about the status of the aging structure. Rogers said the plant provides steam-powered heat for 3 million square feet of buildings on campus.The 50-year-old plant also provides between 80 and 90 percent of the university’s electric load.

Currently, UAF pays $8 million a year on fuel to keep the plant running. The plant has four boilers: two coal-fired, one powered by oil and one that can be powered by oil or gas. Rogers talked about replacing the plant, most likely with one powered solely by oil or natural gas. An oil-powered plant would cost $33 million a year to fuel, while a natural gas-powered plant would cost as much as $12 million if the gas were piped via gas line or as much as $16 million if it were trucked down from Prudhoe Bay, Rogers said.

In the event that the coil boilers fail, Rogers said, UAF would be forced to immediately switch to the $33 million a year plan until the plant was replaced. Rogers did not discuss what the backup plan is in the event of total plant failure.

Rogers and Freitag also faced questions about perennial UAF problems: lack of parking and bad water quality. To the former, Rogers said UAF had recently increased the number of parking spaces available on West Ridge and it was unlikely UAF would be getting a parking garage any time soon. To the latter, the chancellor said UAF occasionally conducts water safety tests, that the water is safe to drink and the water’s bad flavor comes from the university’s aging pipes. Freitag said she would welcome additional testing of UAF’s water.

Toward the end of the forum, an audience member asked Freitag and Rogers about “rumors about The Sun Star.” Freitag was first to address the question, saying The Sun Star is planning on separating from the student government. Currently, The Sun Star is jointly funded by seven percent of the Student Government Fee and advertising. The Sun Star is currently gathering petition signatures in order to get the separation order on the fall ASUAF elections ballot.

If passed, the measure would remove The Sun Star from ASUAF governance and create a new student media fee beginning in fall 2012.

Freitag said she agrees with The Sun Star’s position that it is underfunded.

“They are kind of limited right now with how much they have,” Freitag said. She was unsure of all the details involving the planned separation, but added she’s excited to see what happens.

Rogers mentioned his own history as editor of The Polar Star, one of The Sun Star’s predecessors, and said he believes its important to have an independent student newspaper.

“I think students are getting one heck of a good deal,” Rogers said.

The final question came from Jackson Drew, a junior majoring in biology and chemistry who previously worked at the West Ridge greenhouse. His concerns were regarding the relocation of the greenhouse to its current home adjoining the Arctic Health Research Building. The greenhouse was moved to make room for UAF’s Life Sciences building.

“We were promised to have a functional greenhouse before they tore down our old one,” Drew said in a post-forum interview. The greenhouse is about two-thirds the size of the original one, Drew said, and will be even smaller when the construction is complete.

Additionally, “the funding for the botanical gardens concerns me,” Drew said. “I did work there, I love the place, I’d hate to see it be gone or diminished.”

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