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Ground broken on new US Forest Service lab

Posted: August 25, 2011 - 10:05pm
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, left, Assistant Director for Program Development of the USDA Forest Service, Paul Brewster, center, and University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh ceremonially break ground for the new Pacific Northwest Research Station’s Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory near the UAS campus on Thursday.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, left, Assistant Director for Program Development of the USDA Forest Service, Paul Brewster, center, and University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh ceremonially break ground for the new Pacific Northwest Research Station’s Juneau Forestry Sciences Laboratory near the UAS campus on Thursday.

A groundbreaking ceremony marked Thursday’s official beginning for the new U.S. Forest Service laboratory on the University of Alaska Southeast campus.

The project has been a dream of the Forest Service and the city since the early 1980s. After a few attempts to get it off the ground over the years, construction can begin shortly.

The 11,000-square-foot building is projected to cost $8.3 million. The first floor will be designed into four lab areas while the upstairs will be offices and conference areas. It will be built on a section of the 7.5 acres of federal land adjoining the university.

UAS Chancellor John Pugh said everyone who’s worked on this lab was committed to having it near UAS, even when a previous proposal considered putting it in the Back Loop area.

The Juneau Lab was previously housed in leased office space for about 15 years but a safety audit of the space identified several health and safety issues as well as poorly functioning laboratory space.

Brewster said it was also a desire to have the Forest Service lab housed on its own land. The Forest Service has owned this area by the university for around 40 years.

The new lab will house scientists from the Pacific Northwest Research Station, the U.S. Forest Service, state and private forestry staff plus some from the Alaska Coastal Rain Forest Center.

The idea is that they can work cooperatively with scientists, students and interns from UAS.

The location is a key factor for the facility. It greatly increases the collaborative potential between the Forest Service with university researchers and students, said Paul Brewster, assistant director for program development with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Brewster said the lab will be used for Forest Service scientists to conduct forestry related research, such as watersheds, forest ecology and general forestry related topics.

“The other key thing is the fact that we’ll be literally adjacent to the campus. It will allow far greater interaction that we’ve had in the past,” he said.

He said the Service and university have still always enjoyed a fruitful relationship. This lab will expand it.

“It will make for all kinds of great opportunities for interns and faculty on joint research projects,” he said.

Pugh agrees, as does Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho. Brewster said the university and city have been key supporters in the project both publicly and in the background.

Pugh said that having the lab right next door will create a synergy that UAS, federal and state scientists working on forestry issues haven’t had before.

“The big thing for me is this is an incredible opportunity for the university, for our faculty and students to partner with their scientists to work on the Tongass,” said Pugh.

Botelho has been actively working on this project for years, including working with the Forest Service, Alaska’s congressional delegation and the Department of Agriculture to ensure the lab would happen.

He said Juneau also has a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. to work with the administration and monitor the developments.

This lab has also remained a City and Borough of Juneau Assembly priority for several years.

“The Assembly adopted resolutions in support to make the community’s desire to get the project going clear,” he said.

Pugh and Brewster estimate the construction will take anywhere around 15 months, but this is only speculation at this stage.

Botelho said the building is also configured so it can be possibly expanded at a later date, but this is still just hopeful.

“My hope had been initially the lab would be here and it would be a much larger facility and have separate wings for university research and other federal agencies,” said Botelho.

“Given the current budget realities in Washington, D.C., it’s not likely to happen anytime soon,” he said.

Dawson Construction is the principal contractor for the project. It is based in Bellingham, Wash. The architecture is by MRV Architects of Juneau.

The reception had artistic examples of what the final building might look like.

Its design is still being finalized, said Amy Lesher, the Forest Service’s technical representative for the contracting officer.

She said this is a design-build contract, meaning the contract can still be awarded to the Dawson even before the final design.

Lesher has just started on the project and act as a project manager on the Forest Service’s side.

The Pacific Northwest Research Station is headquartered in Portland, Ore. with 11 laboratories and research centers in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington. It has about 425 employees.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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