Where to now, St. Peter?


Jeremia Schrock / Sun Star Columnist
April 26, 2011

This past year, UAF added some impressive cartridges to its bandoleer of successes. The Board of Regents (BOR) approved the long-awaited anti-discrimination policy. It finalized the tuition increases through the 2012-13 fiscal year. The university saw its bond package get the “a-okay” from voters before finally begin construction on the new Life Sciences Building. To top it all off, the Board also approved the creation of a film major in order to take advantage of a tax-credit currently offered by the state legislature.

But, with so many issues resolved – or at least temporarily placed on the back-burner in the case of tuition increases – the question now is where do we, as students, go from here? What will become the new clarion call to rouse students to action? As Elton John once sang, “Where to now, St. Peter?”

There is one issue that I think a worthwhile – if less glamorous – candidate.

While “fixing the roof” is a much less attractive slogan compared to “granting equal rights for all,” equal rights do not keep one warm during the long, cold and snowy winter months that one is in school. What keeps a person warm is buildings, especially the (aged) power plant. Without those, there is no UAF.

At present, the UA system has more than $750 million worth in deferred maintenance. According to a PowerPoint presentation made available by Facilities Services, the majority of buildings on campus were constructed between 1958 and 1972. The average age for buildings on campus is 35 years. The oldest building still in use, the Eielson building, was build almost 80 years ago.

In fact, the number of buildings in need of repair and/or renovation is absurd. What is even more ridiculous is the number of buildings whose maintenance costs go well over $10 million each: Elvey, O’Neill, Irving I, Irving II, the Ice Arena, the Patty Center, the Lola Tilly Commons, Constitution Hall, Gruening, Eielson, U-Park and last, but never least, the Power Plant. Yes, the deferred renewal need of all of these buildings is at least $110 million. In other words, 13 percent of the operating budget for the entire UA system for all of fiscal year 2011. That’s a minimum.

The worst part is, even if UAF wanted to fix itself up all pretty, it doesn’t have the money to do so. The BOR only received $37.5 million for the whole of the UA system. It doesn’t take a mathematics professor to know that isn’t enough to cut it.

The State Legislature is so concerned about declining oil revenue that it’s tightening its belt without (or so it seems) really considering the future cost to the university system – especially when one considers how outdated the infrastructure is already. The university is a state-operated system that deserves the full support of the state government and legislature. As Section 7.2 of the state constitution writes: “the University of Alaska is hereby established as the state university.” Ergo, state support.

However, there is no way I intend to end my final Nookraker of the year on a sour note. Despite the lack of funding, UAF is being gutsy and moving ahead with their campus restoration projects. Within the past several years, the university has begun repairing the showers in Skarland Hall, finished rebuilding the exterior of the CTC campus (making it more energy-savvy), revamped part of Gruening for the recently revitalized Psychology PhD program and has started replacing the worn-out sewer pipes that snake their way across campus. Plus, they even replaced the carpeting in Eielson. While it’s not something to get too excited about, at least it’s aesthetically pleasing.

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