University undergoes $4M face lift

School officials say renovation to enhance UAS student services

Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Auke Bay campus of the University of Alaska Southeast has been undergoing a $4 million renovation this year to enhance student services and prepare for future growth, officials said.

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The university has renovated the former Student Activities Center on Glacier Highway to house its new bookstore, transformed the lower level of the Mourant Building to better orchestrate student services, and has gutted the top floor of the Novatney Building. The university is remodeling it to house student accounts and payments.

"I say we're coming of age," Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Carol Griffin said. "When you look around, we really look like a university now. In the past we really did look like a community college."

Director of Facility Services Keith Gerken said the renovation was split into two projects with one overall goal of creating a more effective and efficient campus. McGraw's Construction, based in Sitka, won the bids for both projects, he said.

Over the course of the last year the university has completely renovated the former Horton's Hardware building on Glacier Highway that once held the Student Activities Center. The university purchased the building two years ago after leasing it for a number of years.

The $1.8 million renovation included expanding the bookstore by about 1,000 square feet, but the university moved it from its former home in the bottom of the Mourant Building on the main part of campus. The other side of the newly renovated building now houses the administrative services and human resources, which were moved from the Bill Ray Center downtown to be closer to campus, Chancellor John Pugh said.

The administrative offices were supposed to move downtown for three years during a past renovation but it turned out to be almost a dozen years before they were brought back to Auke Bay, Griffin said.

Pugh said the move allows the administrative services to play a bigger role in the day-to-day operations at the campus and won't require faculty and staff to drive downtown to accomplish human resources tasks.

Gerken said the university just completed the lower level renovation of the Mourant Building and a couple of weeks ago gutted the top level of the Novatney Building as part of that $2 million renovation project. The university expects the project to be completed in May, he said.

Different departments and services have been shuffled around during the course of the construction and are expected to move into their respective homes in time for the Fall 2009 semester.

Once the renovations are complete, the lower level of the Mourant Building will be a "one-stop shop" for student services, Pugh said. In it will be counseling offices, the student health center, the Native and Rural Center, student newspaper office and more.

The student accounts, tuition and registration all will be housed in the Novatney building once it is complete, Pugh said.

"It will be put together in a coordinated fashion so people can really go in and do all of that at once, register and pay their accounts and get their financial aid all in one spot," he said.

The renovations also include upgrades to the heating and electrical systems that should reduce costs and increase efficiency, Gerken said.

William Andrews, the student representative on the Board of Regents, said he was impressed with the renovation of the Mourant Building.

"It definitely gives us a professional look," he said. "I think it looks very modern, up-to-date, and I think that kind of legitimizes our overall look as a professional campus - a true accredited university."

Andrews, in his sixth year enrolled at UAS, said he has heard some complaints about moving the bookstore off campus and grumbling about the renovations but mainly from students who have been enrolled there awhile.

"It does seem like one of those sacrifices that they had to make in order to renovate the buildings and what not," he said. "But I guess when you look at the end result it's probably worth the trade off."

The university has put a lot of effort in expanding the university in recent years to continue growth of the student body, Pugh said. It will be three years in January since the new Egan Library classroom wing opened and the new recreation center is in its second year of operation, he said.

"Our strategic plan definitely is to grow the university," Pugh said. "We would like to get to 2,000 (full-time) students at some point, but right now our intermediate goal is to get to 1,000 full-time students on campus."

The university presently has about 850 full-time students, which includes those taking some distance courses. There were approximately 300 full-time students when Pugh came to the university 20 years ago, he said.

About 2,500 people attend the university in some fashion, Pugh said.

"We are building our infrastructure so we can support that kind of growth," he said.

And there could be more upgrades in the coming years, Pugh said. The Board of Regents has approved nearly $10 million in its budget to renovate the Anderson Building, which presently houses the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. If Gov. Sarah Palin includes the project in her budget, the remodeling could begin sometime after UAF moves to its new facility at Lena Point, which is expected in September, Pugh said.

The university is strikingly different from how it was just a decade ago, he said.

"We have felt really strongly that we don't want to just call ourselves a comprehensive university," Pugh said. "We really want to be a comprehensive university."

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or

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