“Change” has been a word circulating around UAA’s campus frequently the past couple of years. A new Conoco Phillips Science Building, new Health Sciences Building, new science and chemistry labs, and a new sports complex have been added or are in the works, among other projects. But the majority of these constructions affect only a small fraction of students at UAA. However, the newest spark of change coming to UAA in the near future is one that will have reverberating effects on a much larger scale for students: the construction of a new engineering building.
This significant student impact isn’t because there is a larger mass of engineering enrolling into the program (although it has doubled in the past five years), nor is it because of the merger of the computer science and engineering departments (though that is a large part of it). It’s because of the location in which it will be built — in the Bookstore parking lot.
Picture the parking spaces directly across from the ANSEP building, and span about six rows of parking spaces over. This is the general area that will be given to the new engineering building — a good 70 parking spaces will be gone, plus whatever is needed for the construction crew’s vehicles and equipment.
This is not a new project by any means; it has been proposed and requesting funding for the last three years. This building is part of a multi-phase project to build a main structure in the Bookstore parking lot, a parking garage in the Health Sciences Building parking lot, connect the garage to the HSB, and connect the HSB to the engineering building via a sky bridge crossing over Providence Drive.
The funding for the entire facility has yet to be received, but the Senate has recently approved the funding specifically for the engineering building during a Juneau meeting several weeks ago. The rest of the money is expected to come from the House, according to USUAA president Alejandra Buitrago.
“The project will answer some of the needs created by our recent growth,” said Professor of Civil Engineering and Interim Dean Orson Smith. “We hope eventually to reach the national average of 120 square feet per student in our UAA engineering education facilities.”
This 75,000 gross square feet (gsf) building will replace the existing facility, which sits at only 40,000 gsf. While the engineering students are gearing up for the construction of their new facility, many other students are dreading its arrival.
“It’s not that I don’t think [the engineering students] don’t deserve a new facility. But it is all about location, and the location chosen is terrible,” said social work sophomore Maya Davidson. “Really? The Bookstore parking lot? That place is a nuthouse as much as it is for parking, and you want to take away a good chunk of it?”
The Bookstore parking lot is a central hub for more than just students coming and going to classes. It is where people park to go to the Bookstore to shop, go to the gym, attend sporting events, attend craft and job fairs and more.
“They were recently doing cleaning of the parking lot and had a few rows blocked off for it,” said Davidson. “People were fighting like wild animals to get any open spot they could.”
To alleviate some of the tension in the future, a parking garage is expected to be built, but the funding for that specific project has yet to be received and could take several years to even begin construction. In the meantime, students will be directed to park behind the PSB, on the side of the RH, and even in the scarcely used parking in the North Parking Lot past the GHH.
“Unlike most campuses in the US, UAA is a commuter-heavy college,” said student Lisa Parson. “In the winter I can understand why, but in the spring, summer and fall there shouldn’t be any reason to not walk. We aren’t that big of a campus.”
Despite student woes, the site of the engineering building has been set and will be built in the location as planned. The first phase of the engineering building project is expected to begin mid-summer to early fall.