UAF prepares for engineering building ground breaking despite uncertain funding

Lex Treinen/ Sun Star Reporter
March 26, 2013

A proof of what the engineering building will look like when it is completed. Photo courtesy of UAF.

A proof of what the engineering building will look like when it is completed. Photo courtesy of UAF.

UAF is pushing ahead with construction of a new engineering building despite uncertain funding prospects. A ground breaking ceremony is scheduled for this Saturday, March 30, which Chancellor Rogers will attend, despite the fact that the Legislature has only allocated $50.3 million of the required $108.6 million needed to complete the project.

According to UAF Facilities Services Senior project manager Cameron Wohlford, administrators hope the construction will put pressure on the Legislature to come through with the funding.

The Peak Oilfield Service Company, the Alaska Society of Professional Engineers, the American Council of Engineering Companies of Alaska, the Alaska Section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and the Alaska Professional Design Council support completing the funding of the project, which would also help UAA build a new engineering facility. In letters written to the Alaska Legislature, these organizations all cited the quality of the Alaska-trained engineers as well as the lack of trained engineers available to work in Alaska.

The status of Senate Bill 40, which guarantees the remaining $58.3 million dollars is uncertain. The bill currently sits in the Senate Finance Committee, which is co-chaired by Republican Pete Kelly  who has not publicly stated how he will vote. The bill has not been heard in the Finance Committee and it is unclear whether it will pass despite the vocal support from Minority Leader Johnny Ellis. “There is a lot of support from the Legislature but also a lot of constraints,” because of the current funding situation, Wohlford said.

Even if the bill doesn’t pass, the funding could still be granted in the capital budget, which is significantly reduced from previous years due to declining revenues. The UAF Board of Regents included the funding in their proposal for the UA operating budget, but Governor Parnell did not include it in his proposal. The budget is expected to be approved by Apr. 15.

If SB 40 or provisions in the Capital Budget do not pass, the future of the engineering building is unclear. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported that Rogers testified before the Legislature last week. Rogers said that not completing the funding project now would only result in increased costs in the future.

A newsletter from the College of Engineering and Mines states that up to 120 new engineering jobs in Alaska will become available per year by 2018. Enrollment has nearly doubled since 2006 the current facility, built in 1964, is “cramped and out-of-date” according to a project report.

The project will block off sections of Tanana Loop from the West end of the Bunnell Building all the way to the intersection of Tanana Loop and Yukon Drive beginning this spring and lasting for up to two years. Employees will be able to access the UAF Cooperative Extension through the Taku Drive. While work will block off handicap accessible parking behind the Brooks Building, drivers can still park in the handicap lots in front of Signers’ Hall.

According to the UAF College of Engineering and Mines website for the new building, the building will be made of glass and steel and will cover 120,000 square feet. It will add 40 new laboratories, an engineering strong wall for earthquake testing, and a “state of the art cold room facility.”

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