Proposed life sciences building faces one last hurdle
By Molly Dischner
Sun Star Reporter
Funding for UAF’s proposed life sciences building is closer than ever before, but the university won’t know if it is a go until November.
On June 21, Gov. Sean Parnell signed a general obligation bond to support mostly education-related construction projects. If voters approve the bond on Nov. 2, UAF will have funding for a much-anticipated life sciences building.
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said he thought the bonds would be approved, but that it would take some work educating people how important the buildings are. Fortunately, he said, communities all across the state have buildings at stake, making them more likely to support the measure.
“I think it stands a pretty good chance of passing,” he said.
If passed, the bond allocates $88,000,000 for UAF’s life sciences building and about $397,200,000 total for projects around the state, including a new sports facility at UAA.
The Life Sciences building would fill a need for research and teaching space that has been in limbo for almost a decade. UAF Public Information Officer Marmian Grimes said the need for such a space was identified in 2001. The building as it is currently proposed is a more recent design.
“We really need that building on the university campus,” Kelly said, adding that the lack of good labs was embarrassing.
Groups related to the university are in the planning phase for the education efforts that Kelly said would be needed.
Incoming ASUAF President Nicole Carvajal said that ASUAF will work with the Coalition of Student Leaders, a statewide entity, to advocate for the bond to pass.
The university itself can’t directly advocate for ballot measures because of state laws, said Kate Ripley, the university’s public affairs director. But the University of Alaska Foundation has donated money to a group called the Alaska Education Alliance. The alliance will advocate for the measure this fall, although the details are still in the works. The Board of Regents also passed a motion in support of the bonds at their June meeting.
Funding for some of the proposed projects was a contentious issue long before the bill reached the floor. Kelly, an early supporter of the project, said bond-funding wasn’t ideal. “It wasn’t my first choice as a method of funding,” he said.
Kelly said he initially wanted general fund dollars spent on the building.
“Our first efforts were toward getting a significant start on it with state general fund funding,” Kelly said. But in the legislature, there was a preference to fund the building via general obligation bonds, Kelly said.
According to state records, once the bill proposing bond funding for both hit the floor, it took less than a month to pass through Alaska’s legislature. House Bill 424 was introduced to the house on April 7. On April 13, it was in the senate’s hands. By April 18, both bodies had approved a version they both agreed on.
In total, the bill would bond $207,000,000 for University of Alaska projects. The other university projects are the sports arena at UAA, student housing and a technical education center at Kenai Peninsula Community College, an art and learning center at UAA’s Mat-Su campus, and renovation at Prince William Sound Community College.
The bond would also fund other projects around the state including work on the state archives, construction of at three K-12 schools in rural areas, a fish and game research facility, and an aquatics center at Mt. Edgecumbe. The total for non-UA projects is about $190,200,000.
First the ballot measure must pass. Then comes the part Kelly is excited for.
“I really look forward to seeing the hard hats on the ground,” he said.