11 ceremonial shovels: The groundbreaking of UAA’s new engineering building

Esteemed guests and faculty ceremonially shovel soil at the Engineering and Industry Building groundbreaking event Friday morning. Photo by Tim Brown.
Esteemed guests and faculty ceremonially shovel soil at the Engineering and Industry Building groundbreaking event Friday morning. Photo by Tim Brown.

On Friday morning roughly 200 people ambled around the muddy construction site just south of the Wells Fargo Sports Complex, where the partial steel skeleton of UAA’s new Engineering and Industry Building can be found. There was a tent full of scones and a barrel of umbrellas, but the rain never came. Eleven gold shovels were propped in a mound of dirt for the groundbreaking ceremony that was to take place.

The 81,500-square-foot facility, projected to begin operations fall 2015, aims to meet the needs of growing School of Engineering enrollment, which has quadrupled since 2000. The Engineering and Industry Building will house a wide array of labs, including electrical engineering, heat and mass transfer and land surveying. Special features include a service yard on the north side of the building to accommodate larger projects and a penthouse that will allow mechanical engineering students access to the inner workings of the building’s mechanical systems.

Former lieutenant governor and member of the UAA Engineering Advisory Board Loren Leman acted as emcee, passing the microphone between the various legislators, UAA faculty, students and other participants in the ceremony.

Early in the proceedings Eklutna Chief Lee Stephan stepped up to perform a Dena’ina ground blessing. He spoke briefly on the future of Alaska Natives.

“There are 127,000 natives in Alaska. A bunch of them are down on the avenue,” Stephan said as he pointed in the direction of downtown Anchorage. “Fill that building with Alaska Natives.”

Following Stephan, two civil engineering seniors were invited to speak. Forest Rose Walker of Buckland and Michael Ulroan of Chevak both received scholarships through the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, better known as ANSEP, which made it possible for them to study at UAA.

According to the Alaska Journal of Commerce, ANSEP has been responsible for 250 Native graduates of engineering and science since 2002.

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Walker and Ulroan received rounds of applause when they told the audience that they would be the first civil engineers from their villages, both of which have populations smaller than 800 people.

State senator and Senate Finance Committee co-chair Kevin Meyer also spoke. He addressed that over $45 million still needs to be raised to complete the project — which, in addition to the new engineering building, includes a 500-car parking garage, the straightening of Mallard Lane and renovations to the current engineering building.

In his speech, Meyer also advocated for SB21, a bill giving tax breaks to oil and gas producers. Some like Gov. Sean Parnell see the bill as the key to increased oil development in Alaska, and others see it as a blatant giveaway. More than 50,000 signatures were gathered just three months after SB21 was passed.

Alaska voters will decide whether to repeal SB21 next August.

“I look forward to working with you to get the other half of the funding,” Meyer concluded.

UAA’s new School of Engineering dean, Tien-Chien Jen, who holds a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from UCLA, also spoke.

“We want this to be an accessible engineering school for industry to work with,” Jen said.

Finally, the associate vice chancellor of Facilities Chris Turletes stepped in to preside over the groundbreaking portion of the ceremony. Chancellor Tom Case, along with a handful of legislators, plopped the first shovelfuls down at the feet of the attendees to applause. UAA Engineering Advisory Board members, faculty, project architects, engineers and others followed suit.