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USDA's Fairbanks research station remains empty

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Posted: Thursday, December 20, 2012 12:14 am

FAIRBANKS — The fate of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s $1.2 million Fairbanks research station remains uncertain a year after the department announced the building’s planned closure.

The greenhouse complex, which sits empty on Geist Road, is about to enter a federal process for transfer or disposal. Construction of the facility was completed last spring, soon after the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service announced it was eliminating its Alaska station and shipping 10 federal jobs out of the state.

The complex consists of a 64-by-64-foot headhouse — a greenhouse support building with space for offices, storage and seed-starting areas — two greenhouses and lab modules. It was designed for research in the Subarctic ARS station, which studied northern agriculture

projects.

So far, finding a tenant for such a specialized building has been a struggle. The federal General Services Administration is expected to begin the formal process for unloading the building in January, with the first preference going to the USDA and other federal agencies.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks hopes to claim two modular buildings at the Geist Road site, with plans to move them on campus to serve as temporary office space. The main facility, which is on leased property and can’t be moved from the site, hasn’t drawn any long-term attention from UAF.

The UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences uses research greenhouses on campus and showed some initial interest in the facility, interim dean Stephen Sparrow said. After evaluating the project, it didn’t make sense to pursue an off-campus building that didn’t quite fit the school’s needs.

“The logistics of it and the cost of maintaining it just didn’t make sense for us,” Sparrow said.

The building was occupied briefly by the Alaska Center for Energy and Power until October, but it was deemed too energy inefficient and costly for a long-term commitment, ACEP Director Gwen Holdmann said.

“It’s a great facility for the right user,” Holdmann said. “The problem is ARS was the right user, and they’re gone.”

However, a return to Fairbanks by ARS is unlikely.

ARS spokeswoman Sandy Miller Hays said there’s no reason to believe the station will reopen anytime soon. The Subarctic station was one of 10 facilities in the U.S. closed as part of a roughly $40 million USDA budget cut this year, and there hasn’t been a significant effort to reverse those closures.

“That’s not on the horizon. … If they’re closed, they’re closed,” Miller Hays said.

Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMbusiness.

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