Frigid half of University Park Building to close

The University Park Building at the base of main campus will partially close this summer. Photo by Jessica Hoffman/The Sun Star

By Andrew Sheeler
Sun Star Reporter

The western half of UAF’s University Park School building will be shut down sometime this summer, leaving many of its residents wondering where they’ll be hanging their hats for the fall semester. The decision was made after years of dealing with heating issues, and outright failures, in that section of the building and numerous complaints from faculty, staff, and students.

U-Park houses the Tanana Valley Campus Emergency Services program, the 4-H offices, several of the art department’s studios, the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies, parts of the UAF School of Education, and the OSHER Life-Long Learning program for seniors. It is located on University Avenue, near Hutchison Career Center.

The decision to shut down part of U-Park was made last fall. The difficulty in maintaining heat throughout the building has just become too problematic, said Bill Cox, HVAC shop supervisor with UAF Facilities Services. Cox said that the underground air ducts have collapsed and become filled with gravel, which prevents the hot air from passing through and heating that side of the building. Cox called the heating system “significantly less efficient” than what would be used for the heating of a home or building today. “We brought it to [the administration’s] attention how much trouble it was,” Cox said, so that the higher-ups could make a decision about what to do. He added that he believed the U-Park heating system was already faulty when UAF acquired the building in the 90’s. Cox said it was likely that the damage had been caused by the 1967 Fairbanks flood. Facilities Services hired a design firm to analyze the problem and determine whether it would be cheaper to repair the problem or just tear that part of the building down. That decision apparently still has not been made.

University Planner Deborah Horner has been tasked with organizing the closure, including finding new homes for the evictees. “Moving people is really difficult,” Horner said, adding that UAF would be losing about 10,000 square feet of space. Planners have been scrambling to find space in other buildings on campus and have already commandeered classroom space in Bunnell.

The plan is to shut down U-Park’s west wing at the end of this summer. Cox said this year’s unusually warm winter has meant that U-Park has “just managed to get by” in terms of habitability.

Deborah Horner said that they were hoping to “limp through the summer” before closing the wing down.

While most faculty and staff were told of the decision last fall, very few today know much more than that. Departments don’t yet know where they will move to, or when. Employees working at the UAF Cooperative Extension office on site were given one month’s notice to pack up and move but complications arose and the move never happened, and the staff is now working out of boxes.

Nancy Wood, a receptionist with U-Park’s TVC office, said the biggest problem has been “We don’t know for sure.” A lack of clear information has led to rumors spreading, Wood said. “I guess when I see them coming to move our things, I’ll know for sure.”

While there is concern about the uncertainty of where people will be going, nobody disputes the need to do something. Nancy Wood described a situation last year when, during a two-week period of minus 45 degrees and colder, students in some classrooms were forced to wear their coats, hats, and gloves inside the classrooms. Wood described a number of attempts by students to “trick” the thermostat into switching on, including pressing an ice pack up against it. Even this winter, which is significantly milder, the side of the building in the sun is substantially warmer than the side in the shade. “Sometimes when I get cold and I can’t stand it any longer, I walk to the other side and get warmed up,” Wood said.

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