The University of Alaska Southeast has been on a roll lately, adding new programs, and setting records in enrollment and degrees granted.
Now, it is even looking more like a traditional university, and a bit less like, in the words of a former university president, a strip mall.
A new traffic turnaround will block the Auke Lake Way route into campus from Glacier Highway, completing the switch to a more walkable campus, said Keith Gerken, the school’s facilities manager.
“We’re going to evolve over time, but the front door is now to the north, from Loop Road,” he said.
The school is in the second year of a multi-year effort to convert its central campus into more walkable area with the feel of a traditional campus, said Chancellor John Pugh.
It was Pugh’s boss, a former University of Alaska president, who noted the resemblance to a strip mall, Pugh said.
The $4.25 million project to reconfigure campus began last year with the improvements to the new main entrance, but its most dramatic step came with the closure of Auke Lake Way that just took place.
That will give UAS a central campus closed to traffic, such as with the Universities of Washington, Oregon or Alaska Fairbanks.
Now underway is the rebuilding of the street between the turnaround and Mourant Hall, which will take the remainder of the summer.
That street closure didn’t go over too well with one of the school’s closest neighbor, Chapel By the Lake Presbyterian Church, where visiting busses will have a trickier time getting in.
Gerken said the change, though, will enable UAS to make some big improvements. The new pedestrian zone will be built during the remainder of the summer, after the current street is torn up, fix the area’s drainage problems and bad soil.
The new area will have a combination of pavers and textured concrete, he said. Traffic will be blocked at the turnaround/drop-off area to the south, and to the north with barricades that will block most traffic, but will enable emergency and service vehicles to access the area.
Arete Construction will build the new pedestrian area; Cuttingedge Development, Inc. (CDI) handled the turnaround, he said.
Work in future summers will continue towards the new north entrance.
Chapel by the Lake administrator Harvey Knuth said the university’s project means they’ll only be able to get busses to the church through the tight Glacier Highway entrance, and that southbound busses will likely have to turn across traffic when they depart.
“They’ve determined that they’re doing these changes on Auke Lake Way and there’s no longer going to be any through traffic,” Knuth said.
Gerken said he doubted it would be that big a problem.
Before UAS built the Mendenhall Loop entrance to campus, all the traffic to Chapel by the Lake came from the highway.
“Prior to that those busses did come from Glacier Highway because that was the only way in,” he said.
Knuth said the Chapel is treating it as a done deal, but is concerned about the tour busses this summer. Before the season started they tested the new route out, he said.
They “tore the side of one of the busses” trying to make the turn, he said.
“It’s a tight squeeze, it’s a much-less-than-ideal situation,” Knuth said.
He likened the church’s complaints to letting your neighbor park in your driveway, and then having the neighbor complain when you wanted to use the driveway yourself.
A longstanding agreement between the Chapel and the university remains, in which UAS visitors can use the church parking lot during weekdays, and on weekends the school provides overflow parking for the church, Gerken said.
• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.