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Invest in our university: Fairbanks construction has been thin

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Posted: Sunday, December 20, 2009 12:04 am | Updated: 12:46 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

There is an old saying that we eat the fruit from trees that we did not plant and drink from wells we did not dig.

These words are apropos in describing the facilities at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus.

Most of our buildings were constructed or planned in the first 25 years of statehood. For the first 25 years, we invested. For the past 25 years, we’ve been filling these facilities with new students and academic and research programs. We have been eating the fruit from trees that we did not plant and been drinking from wells we did not dig.

As Alaska’s first university nears its centennial, it’s time to plant some more trees and dig some more wells.

For the last two decades, most of the state’s investment in higher education has been in Anchorage: the University of Alaska Anchorage library, the UAA parking garage, the UAA integrated science building, the UAA health science building.

I don’t begrudge Anchorage the money, as it needs and deserves a good university. So does Fairbanks. It’s time for our state to invest in UAF.

Let’s take a look at some of the new buildings that have gone up on the Fairbanks campus during the past 15 years.

• We built the Biological Research and Diagnostics Building and the West Ridge Research Building — mostly with university-generated revenue.

• We built the UA Museum of the North — mostly with private contributions and some state money.

• We built the Student Recreation Center — with student fees.

• We completed the Akasofu Building, which houses the International Arctic Research Center — mostly with Japanese funds.

• We upgraded Poker Flat Research Range — with federal funds.

• With some state and federal money, we have managed to refurbish some older buildings here in Fairbanks, the Lena Point Fisheries Building in Juneau, and we’ve built some community campus additions in Kotzebue and Dillingham.

While we are proud of these accomplishments, it has been years since the state has invested heavily in facilities at UAF. This neglect is directly affecting our students, particularly in areas such as classrooms and laboratories. The last new classroom facility, the Reichardt Building, was opened in 1995. Almost all of our student housing was built in the first 25 years of statehood and most of it was here when I arrived as a student in 1970. Our student union, Wood Center, was completed in 1972.

We are eating the fruit from trees we did not plant. We are drinking from wells we did not dig. Unless we plant and dig again, where will the Fairbanks campus be in the next 25 years? In the coming months, you will hear me and others talk about the UAF Life Sciences Classroom and Lab Facility. This building is so important to Fairbanks and the rest of the state that it is the only new capital request in the UA Board of Regents budget for the next fiscal year.

Life Sciences is the first step in building our university to serve Alaska for the next 100 years. There’s a long list behind it, both for new facilities and replacement ones. Our 50-year-old heat and power plant needs to be replaced or have a major renovation in the next five to seven years. Failure to do so will put at risk 3 million square feet of existing classrooms, labs, dorms and offices. Other new facilities will be needed to sustain research, revitalize students’ experience on campus and to house our growing classes.

Thanks to the governors and legislatures of the 60s, 70s and 80s, the state invested in facilities that have supported UAF’s growth during the past 25 years. I applaud Gov. Parnell’s judgment and foresight in recognizing the importance of the life science facility and its benefits for the entire state. I’m hoping that our legislators will have the same foresight. Their support will allow us to take shovels in hand and plant the trees and dig the wells that will bear fruit and water for years to come.

Brian Rogers is the chancellor of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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