Construction at the University of Alaska

Construction of the new Life Sciences Facility on UAF's West Ridge progresses through the summer of 2011. UAF photo by Todd Paris.

Deferred maintenance, capital construction drive improvements

The new Life Sciences Facility takes shape next to the Irving Building on UAF's West Ridge. UAF Photo by Todd Paris.

The Need for Work

“University campus life is competitive,” Gary Johnston, director of design and construction at UAF said of the recent construction happening across the university. “If we don’t stay competitive with other universities in terms of facilities, we can’t draw the best professors, and we cannot draw students. We must try to stay at the cutting edge of what we do here, so we can be the best.”

The University of Alaska has been planting campus seeds across the state for nearly a century, creating campuses in urban and rural communities. All campuses are working towards the university’s mission to inspire learning, disseminate knowledge and emphasize the North and its diverse peoples. In the past century, the university, which began in Fairbanks and now stretches to 16 communities in the state, has acquired land and buildings for student learning and research.

Over time, those buildings have lost value. The University of Alaska System has a total of 400 buildings. As the university continues its education mission, the buildings have aged and become expensive to maintain. Many buildings have depreciated to the point of needing modern code updates, current equipment, and improved, more functional space reflecting a pedagogical approach to research and teaching trends such as hands on learning, teaching to different learning styles, and using different methods to do so. The annual depreciation cost of UA buildings is $56 million and the average building is 30 years old.

Land ownership is divided between each MAU. The UA System has a total of 400 buildings.

For years, the university struggled to keeping up with the annual maintenance required for older buildings. Deferred maintenance, or maintenance that is postponed to a later date to save costs, started to become a significant issue due to years without funding for proper building maintenance. A deferred maintenance backlog had reached $750 million when the Legislature and Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell came up with a funding solution.

Parnell and the Alaska Legislature approved $100 million in funding for five consecutive years to go toward statewide deferred maintenance and renewal projects. The university’s cut of the $100 million is $37.5 million. The rest of the money was designated for other state facilities including buildings, roads, airports and ferries. Parnell began the five-year program in budget year 2011.

Deferred maintenance and renewal and repurposing funds are distributed through each MAU campus. Click to enlarge graph.
Photo of Kirck Wickersham.
Regent Kirk Wickersham, secretary of the University of Alaska Board of Regents and board facilities committee member.

Parnell understands the need to maintain buildings based on his committee experience within the senate, according to Regent Kirk Wickersham, secretary of the University of Alaska Board of Regents and board facilities committee member. Wickersham has been on the board since 2007 and is a retired attorney and real estate broker in Anchorage.

“Governor Parnell has been very supportive, and we have been able to count on $37.5 million in the governor’s budget, which has been very helpful in working towards reducing the backlog of deferred maintenance projects,” Wickersham said.

Without a stable funding commitment, planning for major deferred maintenance construction projects systemwide is nearly impossible, according to John Faunce, director of facilities planning and construction for UAA.

“Prior to the state’s five year deferred maintenance funding commitment, we did not have a reliable stream of funding,” Faunce explained. “Some years there was no money to spend on these projects and other years there was enough money. Planning was impossible.”

He explained that the university receives two kinds of funding for construction projects: capital funding for new construction projects and deferred maintenance funding for annual upkeep on existing structures. New projects are easier to plan and construct than deferred maintenance projects since new multi-year capital projects are presented to the legislature, and their funding is approved in phases before construction begins.

Unlike new project funding however, deferred maintenance funding has been unpredictable from year to year. To make deferred maintenance projects easier to plan and complete, the university also received receipt authority from the state to issue $50 million of bonds, adding to the university’s $37.5 million allocated towards these maintenance and renewal projects.

The last time the state issued bonds to this extent for the same purpose was in the 90s. After that there were years with little to no deferred maintenance funding, Wickersham said. Combining all of these revenue sources means that many projects can be planned and completed, even if they aren’t considered an immediate priority.

Though these sources of funding do not yet reduce the huge maintenance backlog to a level that keeps emergency response manageable, the predictable deferred maintenance money over the past three years has made a difference and offers hope for achieving the university’s sustainment funding plan. The university is aiming to reduce the deferred maintenance backlog from $750 million to $360 million by 2018.

Building a new UA

The UA has experienced substantial growth. UA has developed far beyond initial predictions, exceeding the anticipated growth of programs, students and space needed, which is why new buildings are being formed with capital funding.

The Board of Regents goes through a request process for capital funding and maintenance funding. For new projects, Wickersham said that the board requests a direct appropriation from the legislature and occasionally requests receipt authority to independently raise additional funds. Those funds enable the university to issue and sell bonds in financial markets and use the proceeds of the bonds to do the new construction projects.

UAF Projects

New capital construction projects will help UAF increase research levels, a central aim for the campus as stated in the UAF master plan. Prior to constructing the new facility UAF was unable to increase research capabilities to meet demands due to limited facilities.

Workers stand ready to place the final steel beam in the Life Sciences Facility Aug. 12, 2011. The beam, painted in UAF's school colors, is adorned with the U.S. and Alaska flags, signatures of the iron-worker crew, and a tree meant to bring good luck and future growth. UAF photo by Todd Paris.

These issues led to the development and creation of the Life Sciences Facility on West Ridge (for regular building updates click here.) The overall project cost is $88 million, and construction began in March 2011 and will be substantially complete by May 2013. The new building will be a 100,000 square foot biological research and teaching facility. To view the live building outside site camera, click here; for the live inside building site camera, click here . Before the facility can open, more steam and water piping must be installed from the heat and power plant to West Ridge, according to Scott Bell, associate vice chancellor of Facilities Services.

A new utilidor—a long underground concrete hallway—was built to house the additional steam and water piping and new electric cables through campus and West Ridge. During construction, the utilidor was exposed and easily viewed for a large part of the summer. Right now, there are miles of utilidor that run underground on the campus. To view the live site construction camera, click here.

The utilidor expansion project at UAF affected much of the campus this summer causing detours and parking changes. The utilidor will increase steam capacity for the West Ridge and new Life Sciences facility. UA photo by Monique Musick.

An engineering building (to download an extensive update on the engineering building from UAF Facility Services click here) is currently under design and will be built between the Duckering and Bunnell buildings. It will connect both buildings, which will be difficult as far as construction goes, according to Gary Johnston, director of the division of design and construction for UAF. “It’s like building in the middle of a city. It will be a challenge to make sure that staff and students are safe during construction and that the campus isn’t impacted as far as operations are concerned.” The new building will be 117,000 gross square feet and has been partially funded by the legislature. UAA is designing an engineering building at the same time as UAF. The two buildings are being designed as dual projects since both campuses need additional engineering facilities.

“This will definitely help the economy of Alaska by educating more engineers; the entire country actually is in need of engineers,” Johnston said.

Another new project is a public-private partnership, known as P3, designed to build a new dining facility adjacent to the Wood Center as a replacement for the aged Lola Tilly commons dining facility. The project will build approximately 40,000 square feet of new dining space and will remodel approximately 6,000 square feet of space in the student activities office area. The project will have two levels of dining. The lower, ground level, will have a coffee shop and casual dining and the upper level will have the food service and a large open dining space that will tie seamlessly into the existing dining area. The project is scheduled to break ground in April of 2013 and the facility will be open for business in August 2014. The general contractor for the project is Fairbanks based Ghemm Company, the architect is Seattle based Perkins + Will and engineering is being provided by Design Alaska.

UAF is also replacing a sanitary sewer, which runs through the middle of the Fairbanks campus. The work will replace the existing sewer line and make the lines gravity fed to run more efficiently. The project had a major impact for staff and students during the summer in terms of parking conveniences and campus access. The contractor constructed the project in six phases to minimize the impact, Johnston said. The use of signage and temporary pedestrian walkways allowed students and staff to move freely and safely in the impacted areas during construction.

Pipe staging takes place in the Eielson east parking lot in the campus core in the summer of 2012. The backhoe is excavating for the sewer mainline serving Eielson and Signer's. The UAF Utilities Main Wasteline Repairs South Chandalar project installed approximately 1800 lineal feet of sewer mainline pipe from Lola Tilly Commons up to Wood Center including a mainline and services to Eielson and Signer's. UA photo by Monique Musick

Signage around UAF helped students and employees with information concerning updates, especially for pedestrians for guidance during the projects. In the midst of these major projects, other smaller projects were being conducted as well including:

  • Student Recreation Center (SRC) indoor renovation.
  • Roof replacement to the Patty Ice Rink.
  • Installation of a new electrical transformer in the Patty Gym.
  • The UAF Community and Technical College in downtown Fairbanks has been finishing millions of dollars of upgrades for over five years. Phase Four was completed over the summer.
  • At the Kuskokwim Campus in Bethel, design started for construction on the heat/ventilation systems, which were in need of work due to age.  
  • A project for a campus gymnasium in Bethel.
  • Work is taking place in at the Bristol Bay Campus in Dillingham for a classroom addition to increase student and testing areas by three rooms and increase distance education training space and classroom space.

UAA Projects

Several significant projects are underway for the University of Alaska Anchorage campuses, made possible in part through a general obligation bond package approved by voters in 2010. According to John Faunce, director of facilities planning and construction, a total of $119 million was provided by the GO bonds for work on the main Anchorage campus and the community campuses. Of that total, $60 million was provided to partially fund the UAA Seawolf Sports Arena.

The basement level of the new sports arena at UAA is currently under construction. The sports arena is a capital funding project.

The sports arena has since been fully funded at a total project cost of $109 million, and is in the process of site clearing, layout, foundation excavation and construction, utilities rough-ins, and cooling well installation. Structural steel has been purchased and erection will begin in late November. The 196,000 square foot multi-use facility will house a 5,000-seat performance gymnasium for basketball and volleyball and a practice and performance gym for the gymnastics program. The space will also support a fitness and training area, administration and coaching offices, laundry facilities, A/V production, locker rooms, volleyball, gymnastics, and skiing, track and cross country programs.

Click the image to see the entire Construction in Progress report presented to the Board of Regents in September.

The remaining GO Bond funds are devoted to community campuses, which Faunce said will provide the first new construction for some of the campuses.

The largest GO bond project is the Mat-Su Valley Center for Arts and Learning. The facility will provides a 500-seat auditorium for the campus for lectures, performances, public gatherings and conferences, a classroom, drama lab, music space and instrument storage, and gathering/study spaces. The total project cost is $20 million and is currently in design phase.

A second GO bond project at the Mat-Su campus is the $3.5 Million Paramedic and Nursing Facility addition. This addition to Snodgrass Hall will include expanded space including classrooms, offices, labs, storage and workspace for the paramedic and nursing programs. This project is currently under construction with completion anticipated later this month.

The GO bonds also provided $30.5 Million for two projects at the UAA Kenai Peninsula College (KPC), Kenai River Campus. Work is currently underway on a new student housing facility, constructing a dormitory that will house 80 to 96 students (for regular dorm updates, head to the KPC dorm facebook page here) KPC has received many requests for housing on campus, particularly from native students, which would enable students in communities that are not within commuting distance of the campus to participate in a full college program. The new housing units are planned to be available to students for the 2013 Fall semester.

Construction has also started for the KPC Campus Career & Technical Education Center. This 20,000 square foot facility will be devoted to process technology, electronics and instrumentation programs. This project is also planned to be completed for the 2013 Fall semester.

A pdf copy of the Prince William Sound Community College Wellness Center update.
Click image to enlarge pdf.

At the Prince William Sound Community College, the GO bonds are funding a $5 million renewal of the campus Wellness Center. The work will include a complete renewal of the former gymnasium, constructing ADA compliant restroom areas and lockers, a new entrance with counter space, and many lighting, electrical, and mechanical upgrades. This project is currently under construction with completion anticipated in late 2013.

Although not a GO Bond funded project, the new UAA engineering building is currently under design. The $123 million dollar project includes constructing a 75,000 gross square foot engineering laboratory and teaching areas, renewal and repurposing of the existing engineering building, and construction of a new 485-car parking garage to support the new building. The project will help satisfy a major need for engineering laboratory and classroom space at the campus. The project is partially funded and has a lot of community and legislative support, according to Faunce.

“This project will provide engineering laboratory and classroom space for undergraduate engineering programs. The labs are critically needed to support classes currently being offered and will enable the School of Engineering to provide more robust undergraduate programs,” Faunce said.

Planning also began this summer on a new $24.3 million vocational and technical training facility at the Kodiak campus. Faunce said the work is important, as the Kodiak campus is a primary center for vocational and technical training on Kodiak. The campus has been teaching courses in the local high school, but the high school program has grown large enough that there is not sufficient time available for the community campus to use the facilities at the school any longer.

UAS Projects

UAS is in the midst of a three year phased reconstruction of Auke Lake Way, the primary access road for the Juneau campus. The $4.3 million project is replacing underground utilities, storm drains, foundation soils, pavement, signage and lighting, adding traffic control devices and providing for service and emergency access from the Hendrickson building to the Egan bus circle. The project also transforms the central campus core to a pedestrian zone, eliminating through traffic and includes reconstruction of the Novatney parking area to a drop off and turn-around; A roof structure will be constructed atop the path between the main parking lots and Whitehead building entrance, while entry canopies at two principal buildings will be reconstructed to provide for shelter and seating.

Auke Lake Way is the core road that runs through the middle of the Juneau campus at the University of Alaska Southeast. The road is being reconstructed due to failed pavement and drainage and will be turned into a pedestrian route with a new vehicle roundabout as pictured.

A new freshman residence hall for the Juneau campus is currently being designed with construction anticipated to begin in the spring of 2013. The $9.3 million first phase of the project will construct 60 beds of what will be a 120-bed facility. The second phase will include the additional beds, as well as improvements to the existing campus cafeteria. The project will help with freshman student retention and success, according to UAS Director of Facilties Services Keith Gerken.

A concept design of the new dorms being built at UAS Juneau. Click the image to download the complete schematic design.
A concept design of the new dorms being built at UAS Juneau. Click the image to download the complete schematic design.

“Freshmen are the most vulnerable students in terms of making a go at college,” Geken explained. “Moving freshman housing to the middle of campus, close to the cafeteria and classes, will make the freshman student experience more integrated into the campus life with all of the resources to make a more active social community. We think this new location will provide the kind of on-campus life that will help to make more freshmen return as sophomores,” Gerken said.

A life boat davit is being constructed in the lower campus at Ketchikan, funded through a Title III grant. The total project cost was $750,000 and the first phase of construction was completed in September 2012 with the remaining work to be constructed in spring of 2013. An upper campus parking lot in Ketchikan was also reconstructed, which included removing existing pavement and soil, installing a geotextile and non-frost sub-base and new paving.

The life boat davit constructed in the lower campus at UAS Ketchikan.

Another Title III grant provided funding over two federal fiscal years to remodel portions of the existing Career & Technical Education Center in Sitka. The project, which cost $3.7 million, will expand the existing student success center, create a new instructional design center, reconstruct the construction technology laboratory, construct a new records storage and lecture hall.

The Future of UA

UA campuses continue to modernize, and the demand for graduates in several areas continues to increase. With those increases, there is a demand for properly retrofitted as well as specialized new facilities.

The construction work, whether its maintaining old buildings or constructing new facilities, is an investment that will echo in the economy now and in the future, especially through the new engineering facilities that will help feed into one of the highest job demand areas in Alaska, according to Regent Kirk Wickersham, secretary of the University of Alaska Board of Regents and board facilities committee member. “When you’re using science facilities that we built in the 70s and you upgrade to facilities that were built in 2009 and above, you’re serving students and their future employers at a level that is simply impossible without those kind of investments.”

The university growth has potential to work full circle, stimulating the economy and other job sectors, but the true goal remains—educating students, the future of Alaska.

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