New science building on the horizon

Rep. Berta Gardner and Sen. Johnny Ellis, both Anchorage Democrats, are trying to get state government to pay for a new science building at UAA. The two submitted legislation that will provide the $71.6 million needed if either House Bill 145 or Senate Bill 99 are passed. Both legislators agree construction needs to begin soon, and it must be fully paid for when it does.

“We need to break ground on this project as soon as possible,” Ellis said. “With rising construction costs every season we wait, SB 99 and HB 145 would fund the remaining balance upfront so the shovel can hit the dirt this summer and save money too.”

The original concept for a new science building at UAA began in 2001 as the Unified Sciences and Nursing Building. Before long, planners realized space deficits were so great that the project needed to be focused on giving space to the sciences and promoting collaboration amongst the disciplines. In 2002, UAA received $8.4 million in a general obligation bond, but that falls short of the $80 required for the full project.

A new science building at UAA is long overdue, said Cyndi Spear, associate vice chancellor for Facilities & Campus Services.

“Prior to 2003, UAA had built no new science facilities since 1978,” Spear said. “Enrollment numbers, students seeking degrees in the sciences, technology and science curriculum have all changed dramatically since 1978.”

The facility is important to UAA, Anchorage and Alaska, Spear said. Students graduating from science programs fuel Alaska’s economic development like few others.

“Research conducted by students and faculty in the sciences produces results that look at ways to solve problems in virtually all aspects of life in Alaska, including wildlife management, health, food safety, ecosystems, global climate change, disease prevention…just to name a few,” Spear said.

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The recently submitted legislation is not the only possible source of funding for the project. Gov. Frank Murkowski has proposed $21.6 million for the project in his annual budget request. But that $21.6 million would only pay for the first phase of the project when combined with the $8.4 million UAA has already secured. The new legislation would pay for the entire science building.

The bills must go through a series of committees before being presented on their respective floors. HB 145 now resides in a education committee and, if approved, will move on to the Health Education and Social Services Board, then to finance committee and finally to the house floor. Despite the obstacles ahead, Gardner is very optimistic about the program and seems sure the state will eventually find the money for it.

“We just take it one step at a time, doing what we can,” Gardner said. “I’m not aware of anybody that is really opposed to it; the question is where the money is coming from.”