UAF building boom gets underway

Photo/JR Ancheta/UAF

Big changes and big buildings are in the works at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Between an overhaul of the university’s power plant; a new engineering studies building now under construction; an addition to the William R. Wood Campus Center; and general maintenance, more than $380 million worth of new facilities is planned.

This spending is in addition to the $87 million Margaret Murie Life Science Building that opened to students in August.

“Program needs drive our facility construction,” said Scott Bell, UAF associate vice chancellor for facilities services.

The university’s engineering building — a $108.9 million project — is being built in-step with a similar facility at the University of Alaska Anchorage. To date, it has received $65.3 million from state capital appropriations and general obligation, or GO, bonds, Bell said.

The Board of Regents approved UAF to bond for $10 million towards the project, leaving it about 70 percent funded for now.

Bell said work on the 119,000 square-foot College of Engineering and Mines facility has slipped by six months due to funding issues and the state will need to fully-fund the project in the 2014 legislative session to complete it for the 2015 fall semester.

Ground was broken on the project last March.

Funding for the 46,000 square-foot Wood Center addition and remodel is already in place. UAF partnered with a private development group that will own new and renovated portions of the Wood Center. When completed, it will be leased back to the university until it is paid off under a 30-year agreement, according to Bell. The leaseback agreement will cost UAF $44 million for $28 million of construction, but allows the school to move ahead with the project without waiting for state funding.

Expanding the Wood Center was brought about by the need to rejuvenate or replace the Lola Tilly Commons, which has served as the UAF cafeteria for 40 years, Bell said.

Roughly 9,000 square feet of the original 68,000 square-foot Wood Center is being renovated. A new coffee shop and Marche-style dining arrangement with expanded food options will consolidate food service on campus to one building, Bell said.

“We need to improve our dining to attract and keep students and the (Commons) is at the end of its useful life,” he said.

If construction continues as scheduled, the Wood Center will be finished by next fall.

In recent years, UAF has seen its construction budget explode to replace aging infrastructure and meet the growing needs of faculty and students.

The school’s payments to contractors fluctuated between $18.7 million and $57.2 million from fiscal years 2001 to 2011. In fiscal year 2012, money spent on construction work jumped to $72.6 million, and last year it grew to $89.6 million. University officials have said they expect the construction budget to be in the $70 million range for the current 2014 fiscal year.

Bell said the Murie life science research center was a prime example of how long seeing the funding process through for new facilities can be.

“With us doing $110 million worth of research at UAF every year we have to keep our research facilities up to date,” he said. “It took us 10 years to get the funding for the life sciences building.”

Eye on efficiency

Further energy retrofit work is being done on UAF buildings, a move that should eventually save the school up to $500,000 per year. The university has contracted with Siemens Industry Inc. to do $6 million worth of energy improvements to 10 buildings.

UAF is paying for the work up front with bond revenue and Siemens is backing its work with guaranteed savings from lower energy bills.

“Siemens engineers run calculations and they predict savings based on the improvements we make to the degree of accuracy that Siemens is willing to back the savings,” company Building Technologies Division engineer Amber McDonough said.

A payback period of 12 years is expected — short enough that the energy savings will offset the cost of the improvements during payback.

“The focus of these projects was things that are going to save fuel oil or electricity,” McDonough said.

The energy efficiency improvement program includes buildings on UAF’s Bethel and Kotzebue campuses. The work focused on heating and ventilation systems, and lighting and building controls, she said. Most of the work is done and ready to be monitored.

“The lighting in the student recreation center was one of the first projects we did and we saw energy usage on the lighting circuits drop by over half — immediate savings,” Bell said.

McDonough added that Siemens began retrofitting state buildings in 2003 when it executed a $3 million project for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Since, the company has contracted further with DOT and did $9 million worth of work for the Department of Corrections to eight prisons across the state in 2007.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

09/05/2013 - 6:59am