Legislature awards money for UA engineering buildings

The University of Alaska has been on a mission to increase its engineering students for several years now. That mission got a big push in the final hours of the legislative session, when the House passed the Senate’s capital budget that include more than $100 million for new engineering buildings at two campuses.

To be complete, the governor must still sign off on the budget, but both campuses see this as a big step forward in the Engineering Expansion Initiative the university’s Board of Regents adopted in 2007.

The Legislature awarded UA $58.6 million for construction on a new engineering building at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The University of Alaska Fairbanks got $46.3 million for its construction. Both of these amounts are roughly half of what each needs to complete the projects. University officials say the plan will most likely involve requesting the rest at next year’s session.

Although the engineering buildings were not in the capital request from the Board of Regents, the projects were pushed through in the Senate Finance and received strong support from engineering firms and students. Much of this stems from the current facilities’ inadequacies.

The projects include a mix of new construction and renovation of existing space.

UAA’s building will be located across from the new Health Sciences Building. Mike Driscoll, UAA provost and executive vice chancellor, said the numbers have gone up dramatically over the last five to six years, and more space is needed. He said the current space is less than half of what’s needed to accommodate the college’s growing engineering program. The new building also will improve modernization of the space and enhance the labs to allow better hands-on studies.

“The new facility give us somewhere like 60,000 usable square feet,” he said.

The building itself will be a living experiment to showcase things like instrumentation, measuring, heating and cooling systems, and seismic activity potential to the engineering students.

Driscoll said the hope is that construction can begin in next spring’s season after additional planning. It would still be a couple of years until the building is usable.

The new UAF building will supplement the existing engineering facility, Duckering Building, adding 54,000 square feet, said Doug Goering, dean of the College of Engineering and Mines at UAF. He said Duckering currently has 80,000 square feet. There is the possibility for more space in the new one because one floor will be for future expansion.

Goering said the additional space is close to what was determined to be needed, as programs and research expenditures have essentially doubled since 2005.

He said the new building will have an open floor plan and some internal glass to increase visibility of how engineers work, which is something Duckering lacks the ability to do.

The department also wants plans to build more study space, connectivity, and space for student teams to work and do special projects. Some of these projects include work on rocket and satellite design, civil engineering in bridge building competitions and work with the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Goering said they are partway through the design now and construction could start in about a year.

UAA’s plans include a code-required parking structure. UAF’s plan does not include such parking, which Goering said contributes to its lower cost.

The construction is part of the University of Alaska’s initiative to increase undergraduates in engineering to fill an occupational gap. The university reports that most engineering jobs in the state are filled by non-residents.

The Alaska Department of Labor projects an average of 50 new engineering jobs annually through 2018 and another 70 openings from annual turnover and retirement.

The university has been focused on expanding its engineering program for some time, particularly its undergraduate engineers. The Board of Regents has called the Engineering Expansion Initiative its No. 1 new construction priority for academic programs.

Engineering enrollment has increased by 53 percent between 2007 and 2010 in engineering undergraduates, the university reports. There were 72 baccalaureate degrees awarded in this field when the initiative came through in 2007, compared to 148 in 2010.

Driscoll said UAA has more than 1,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate classes.

Goering said the university is on track to double its 2006 engineer students by 2014.

The Legislature previously awarded $4 million to each campus for planning and design. Private gifts of more than $26 million for the engineering program initiative have come in from nearly 770 individuals and corporations since fiscal year 2007. UAF also able to garner $400,000 in general funds.

“We’re very grateful for the engineering companies for all support they’ve given and recognizing the quality of graduates and wanting to see more of them,” Driscoll said.

11/07/2016 - 8:14pm