UAS adds to its capacity for research

With expansion, school hopes to attract faculty

Posted: Monday, January 24, 2005

The University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau has added a natural science lab for faculty research and hopes to build a separate seawater lab at the Auke Lake campus.

Meanwhile, UAS continues to lobby for more state funds for a University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries lab at Lena Point, said UAS Chancellor John Pugh.

In other physical improvements, UAS plans to make the northern road entrance at Mendenhall Loop Road the only entrance, and extend a pedestrian mall in front of classroom buildings. The university is seeking $1.3 million in state funds.

And the university plans to buy the building on Glacier Highway now used as a student activities center and convert it to the campus bookstore and offices. UAS would borrow $3.1 million to buy and alter the 10,000-square-foot building.

It soon won't be needed as an activities center because the joint university recreation center and National Guard training facility off Mendenhall Loop Road is scheduled to be completed in a few months, said UAS facilities manager Keith Gerken.

The university also is asking the state Legislature for funds to remodel the Hendrickson classroom building and its annex for nearly $1.2 million.

UAS this fall bought from the city of Kasaan a former state laboratory on Bentwood Place, off Industrial Boulevard. The three-story building, paid for with a loan that included renovation funds, cost $3.1 million.

The mortgage will be covered largely by a tenant, the state Department of Fish and Game, which leases the bottom floor, Gerken said. University research funded by the federal government typically brings money to cover use of labs, as well.

The university had rented part of the building before, but with the purchase it has more lab space, said Brendan Kelly, a marine biology associate professor and dean of the arts and sciences at UAS. The building has about 17,500 square feet.

"We've long been quite crowded for research space in the campus," he said.

The new lab comes at a good time because the university has added to its research faculty, Kelly said.

When Kelly joined UAS in late 1996, two other biology professors performed research as part of their workload, he said. Now there are six biology professors in Juneau and one in Sitka who do research.

The Natural Science Research Laboratory will be used by faculty and not for undergraduate science classes, although some students will assist faculty in their work at the lab.

Providing better research labs helps attract faculty. The university is seeing a larger pool of better-qualified applicants for faculty positions, said UAS spokesman Kevin Myers.

And research is one of the purposes of universities.

"Professors' duties are to acquire new knowledge as well as to pass that knowledge on - that's their teaching - and also to see to its application for the good of society," Kelly said.

Among the research projects that use the new lab are studies of snow and weather at Eaglecrest Ski Area, producing information that's useful to the ski patrol, and studies of water quality in the Mendenhall Valley's Jordan and Duck creeks.

Alaska is unusual in its low level of industry-supported research, said Kelly and University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton.

Hamilton said he'd like to see the state fund some academic research. The University of Alaska's research funded by non-state sources creates 2,000 high-paying direct jobs, he said.

"The issues that are particularly Alaskan are going to be neglected if we don't have research," Kelly said.

Much of university research is funded by federal agencies. The downside of that is that the funding might not be trying to answer the questions that matter most to Alaskans, Hamilton said.

UAS also hopes to gain more lab space for instruction and research when UAF, whose School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences has a center in Juneau, builds an academic and research center at Lena Point, next to the federal fisheries lab now under construction.

Because the Legislature has awarded $11.5 million, only about half what is needed, UAF will build the center in two phases. The first phase likely will be designed this year, but construction probably won't begin until 2006, officials said.

The first phase, at 18,420 square feet, will replace the space UAF uses in the Anderson science building, near the Auke Lake campus. The Anderson building then could be used entirely by UAS for biology and marine biology. Remodeling it could cost $5 million, Gerken said.

Meanwhile, UAS is seeking $716,000 in state funds to design a one-story, 8,800-square-foot lab near the Anderson building. It would draw water from Auke Bay and be used for seawater-related research, Kelly said.

Because the salt in seawater is corrosive, UAS would like to separate seawater research from the computers and scientific instruments at the Anderson building.

Construction of the seawater lab would cost about $3.6 million, Gerken said.

The Legislature hasn't funded capital projects at the University of Alaska for two years, President Hamilton said. One source of funds might be a portion of state legal settlements with oil companies over taxes and royalties, he said.

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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