Political, business and tribal leaders from the Bristol Bay region welcomed the new EPA Administrator to Dillingham Tuesday. They called on the EPA to step in and stop development of the proposed Pebble Mine. KDLG’s Mike Mason has the story.
Listen to full meeting audio at KDLG.org
The 78-foot sunken fishing tender Lone Star is still stuck in the mud in the Igushik River as responders try and figure out a new way to recover the vessel. The vessel grounded on June 30th while taking fish from the local fishermen for processing by Trident Seafoods. It began taking on water and eventually capsized in about 18-feet of water. It’s been sitting on the bottom of the Igushik River since that time and it looks like it will stay there for a little longer as responders try and figure out a way to get the vessel unstuck from the mud. Petty Officer Shawn Eggert is a spokesman for Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, which is monitoring the recovery effort.
A worldwide environmental conservation group is becoming more involved in the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. This summer, contractors working under the Alaska Energy Authority have been conducting 58 studies to assess the environmental impact of the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric project. The Nature Conservancy, which operates in 35 countries and across the entire United States, has hired a consultant to review the data that the studies produce and generate and independent assessment of some of the environmental risks.
AEA says that the proposed dam would generate enough power to fill the needs of half of the Railbelt’s current consumers at a cost of $5.19 billion dollars. Some opponents of the dam claim that environmental impacts would outweigh the benefit of what would be one of the tallest dams in America. The Nature Conservancy plans to conduct an independent evaluation of the study data to see how significant the environmental impacts will be on one of Southcentral Alaska’s key industries.
“For the Susitna-Watana Hydro Project, we want to use that framework to look at what are the risks for salmon, in particular salmon habitat, if that project were to be built”
That’s Corinne Smith. She oversees the Nature Conservancy’s efforts in the Mat-Su Basin. To sift through the large amount of fishery data, the Conservancy has brought in Anchor QEA, a nationwide engineering and environmental consulting firm with offices in Anchorage. Smith says that the data currently being gathered could prove useful in determining the potential impact of the Susitna-Watana dam as well as future hydroelectric projects.
“If we were to build a big dam on any large river, like the Susitna, in the state, we would use the Susitna as a case study because there is so much information about that particular river, and there will be in the next two years, after AEA’s studies.”
That wealth of data will include information on the spawning areas and run strength of area salmon as well as potential impacts on their habitat, such as water flow rate, silt accumulation, vegetation, and changes in how the river freezes. The determinations that The Nature Conservancy and Anchor QEA reach are not purely for their own use, however, and Smith hopes that others will find the data helpful.
“Our goal is also to provide information for other stakeholders in the process–to have a clear framework for how to assess the impacts from the study. That’s a lot of information. It’s a little unclear, yet, how it all flows together. We’re taking just one piece of it, and that’s salmon salmon. Obviously there are a lot of other potential impacts from the dam, and we’re just looking at the salmon piece of it.”
Smith says that The Nature Conservancy plans to keep in line with AEA’s study timeframe, and expects to reach some conclusions by the end of 2014.
The Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium plans to close Front Street Clinic on October 1, according to SEARHC COO Dan Neumeister. The decision by the board of directors comes after two days of meetings last week.
Neumeister says deciding to close the clinic geared for homeless and low-income patients was difficult. He cites budgetary constraints, including sequestration.
Dan Austin with the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness says he’s not surprised with SEARHC’s decision.
“I think we have reached a point where we need to make that transition. I believe that for 10 years, SEARHC has done a wonderful service for the community, but we need to find an alternative.”
According to Neumeister, Front Street Clinic costs about $600,000 a year to operate. $160,000 of that comes from a U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration grant. The remaining more than $400,000, he says, comes from SEARHC. Neumeister says SEARHC makes that money through billings at its facilities.
The HRSA grant went into effect May 1 and is good for one year. Neumeister does not know how much, if any, of the $160,000 remains, but says he is working with the federal agency on how leftover funds can be re-designated.
Neumeister plans to hold a meeting in Juneau Tuesday to facilitate discussions on how the clinic can stay open. Neumeister did not identify who would be at the meeting but the city and borough of Juneau and the Juneau Coalition on Housing and Homelessness confirm they will have representatives present.
Dan Austin with the Coalition is optimistic that the community will find a solution.
“The big issue is going to be, in the event that the HRSA grant cannot keep the doors open at Front Street Clinic, where can we go to find some additional resources? That’s a big challenge in this time, but this is a community that can step up to the plate and do that.”
Neumeister says SEARHC remains committed to taking care of Alaska Native homeless. The responsibility of the general public, says Neumeister, needs to go back to the general public. He says Juneau has other organizations responsible for the homeless.
Neumeister also plans on meeting with Front Street Clinic staff today.
The Board of Directors for Buccaneer Energy has a new look again, just weeks after an attempt to overtake the Board by two Singapore-based investment companies was only partially successful.
In a press release, the company announced three of the six Board members resigned effective August 14th. Nicholas Davies, Clinton Adams and Shaun Scott had only been on the Board since July 2nd, when they were nominated by Pacific Hill International and Harbour Sun Limited, both based in Singapore. Those two companies hold approximately five and a half percent of the Buccaneer’s issued capital funds.
The Board split earlier this summer was about Buccaneer’s future plans for the jack-up rig Endeavour. The Singapore faction felt the focus should narrow to onshore development of natural gas, while the rest of the Board, which includes Buccaneer founder and CEO Curtis Burton and executive chairmen Dean Gallegos supported using Endeavour in Cook Inlet.
Now, Buccaneer will enlist the help of a search firm to find a new Board member. It will also have to work out another Board appointee with yet another investment firm. Meridian Capital, which has an almost twenty percent interest in Buccaneer, gets to appoint its own nominee as part of the deal it signed back in June.
That Buccaneer’s board is in a prolonged game of musical chairs should be of interest to Alaska taxpayers. They’re one of the company’s partners by way of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. AIDEA has invested more than $23 million into Kenai Offshore Ventures, which co-owns Endeauvour with Buccaneer and another investment company, Ezion, which took a 50% interest in Kenai Offshore Ventures when it signed on in 2011.
The original Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Bethel was totaled by a fire early Sunday morning. The structure still remains but the inside is blackened. The emergency call came into the police and fire departments at about 3:30 a.m. on Aug. 25. The caller said the outside of the building was burning.
The fire department worked on putting out the fire for about 3 and half hours.
The old church was built in 1943-44 and was used for about 12 years until a new church was built. At that point, the old church became the parish hall. About 16 years ago, a third Catholic Church was built. The second one became the new social hall and the oldest one was used for things like AA meetings.
A few years ago, it became the rummage room where the church would sell donated items for next to nothing. The church made about $7,000 a year on those sales. They say it was more about providing a service to the public. They plan to continue to hold rummage sales once they figure out a new location.
The old church building was insured.
Volunteers from Petersburg were not able to free a humpback whale tangled up in a gillnet near Petersburg on Friday and Saturday.
Members of Petersburg’s whale entanglement team Friday morning responded to the call of a whale caught in a gillnet in Frederick Sound. Petersburg Marine Mammal Center president and team member Barry Bracken said he and other volunteers boated out to the tangled whale, caught in gear still connected to the fishing boat around 11 a.m. Friday just north of Sukoi Island. That’s more than five miles north of Petersburg.
“We worked with the whale attached to the boat for a couple of hours,” Bracken said. “We were not making much headway with it. The whale at one point had swept under the boat and so we had the gillnet gear wrapped around the prop shaft so the boat was immobilized. We decided at that point it probably would be better to cut the whale free and try to work at it on it as a free swimming whale and allow the vessel with escort to return to Petersburg.”
Photo courtesy of Don Holmes
The entanglement team kept trying to cut the gear loose for several more hours Friday but were unable to free the animal. Instead they attached a buoy and tracking device, allowing them to find the whale again Saturday morning. By that point, the humpback had passed by Cape Fanshaw headed north in Frederick Sound.
Bracken described it as a large adult humpback with what looks like two wraps of lead-line from the gillnet. “It looks like those go back underneath the pectoral fins to a large mass of gear below the fluke,” he said. “The fluke is relatively clear, the blowhole itself is clear, there’s not much netting on the back of the animal, but it appears that there’s a very large mass of combined corkline, leadline and web that is just below the fluke so he can’t even raise his tail up out of the water and really can’t raise it close enough for us to get any kind of purchase on that.”
The North Pacific Large Whale Disentanglement Network, which includes the local team members, is tracking the whale. Local volunteers may try again to free the whale Wednesday if weather conditions are better and the animal has not travelled too far away from Petersburg. Otherwise it could be up to a disentanglement team from elsewhere in Southeast to try.
Frederick Sound has seen expanded fishing area for gillnetters this year due to strong returns of salmon, although the entanglement did not happen in the expanded fishing area near Mitkof Island. Boaters have also been reporting an unusually large number of humpbacks in local waters.
Bracken said this is the first response for the local entanglement team this year. “We were a little bit nervous when the expanded area was opened in Frederick Sound and we’d had more whales in the in the area than we’ve had for a number of years and so we’ve been kinda been keeping our fingers crossed that we’d make it though the season, not only for the sake of the whales but also the sake of the fishermen because it’s certainly no fun for them to have that level of involvement and the loss of fishing time and the destruction of gear and everything that goes with it. So we were really keeping our fingers crossed that it was gonna work out but unfortunately these things happen.”
Bracken notes the entanglement was documented by the National Marine Fisheries Service observer program. That program is in its second year of cataloging the gillnet fleet and interactions with marine mammals around Petersburg and Wrangell.
A multi-day totem-raising celebration is taking place in Klawock. Here’s KRBD’s Sean Carlson, who called in from Prince of Wales Island Friday with a quick report with KRBD’s Leila Kheiry.
Karen Olson, who managed the Matanuska Creamery in Palmer, has been charged with defrauding the state of Alaska and with making false statements to the federal Department of Agriculture. Olson faces six counts in all.
The charges stem from 2008, when Olson, CEO and a part owner of Valley Dairy, illegally obtained a 430 thousand dollar loan from the state’s division of agriculture. The charges indicate that Olson used the loan to conceal Valley Dairy’s financial losses, and that she made false statements to the US Department of Agriculture in order to receive federal grants.
Federal prosecutor Retta Randall says Olson’s scheme aimed at covering up illegal conduct on the part of her business partner
“Once she realized the economic situation of the Valley Dairy, she was made the chief executive officer of the Valley Dairy and authorized to pursue loans with the state of Alaska. What our investigation revealed is that she allegedly filed false documents by fax and by email and by mail to get the state of Alaska loans.”
Olsen is charged with concealing the criminal activities of Kyle Beus [BEE yoose], co owner and president of Valley Dairy. Beus is currently under indictment himself for using USDA grant money for his personal use, and for submitting false statements to the USDA regarding two federal grants awarded him in 2007 and 2008 to start a cheese and ice cream manufacturing facility in the Matanuska Valley. Retta Randall
“She provided documents to USDA. Those documents were also false, but she was able to get the USDA to consent to give over to the state the primary interest in the equipment. And that’s what caused the state then to authorize the loans. So the underlying allegations are based on false documents, concealing the criminal conduct of Mr. Beus, and then getting loans from the state of Alaska and having the USDA give up it’s interest in the dairy, for the Valley Dairy to be able to get those loans. “
Beus is awaiting trial. Federal prosecutors say that Olson could face a one million dollar fine or a total sentence of 30 years in prison.
Cori Mills, a state assistant attorney general in Juneau, says it is not clear at this time what action the state will take against Olson
“It’s all confidential and will all be done internally. And if and when that decision is made, then it will be made public. But at this point, there is no decision on pressing charges.”
The Matanuska Creamery shut down in December of last year, due to financial issues. The company owed the state almost 900 thousand dollars when it closed. The state recalled it’s agricultural loan to Valley Dairy in August of last year after the Creamery defaulted on the debt. The state acquired the Creamery’s assets and auctioned them off earlier this year.
The new head of the Environmental Protection Agency is making a field trip to Alaska this week. Gina McCarthy says this trip is not about regulation, but about learning and tribal consultation. She’ll be going to Fairbanks and Bristol Bay, but she started her trip at the site of a receding glacier.
Hays Research Group asked 388 likely primary voters their opinions of a possible 2014 ballot initiative that would prohibit the Pebble Mine. More than 60% said they favor the measure. Some two-thirds of that group strongly support it.
“Favorability was shared across all parties,” reported pollster Adam Hays. “Democrats, Republicans, as well as people who identified as moderate or in the middle.”
Hays said he was not paid by any group to conduct the poll.
This is the highest level of support for the ballot initiative ever. A “clean water” initiative that would have banned the mine failed in 2008 56 to 44%.
Hays said Alaskans support development projects but oppose this specific one.
The poll shows that more than 70% of Alaskans want the gubernatorial candidates to weigh-in on the ballot measure. Governor Sean Parnell has urged the EPA not to rule out the mine before the Pebble Partnership submits its application.
The United States Arctic Research Commission convened at Unalaska’s Grand Aleutian Hotel today. The independent agency is made up of eight commissioners with diverse backgrounds in fisheries, science, and education.
Their charge is to help the federal government develop a game plan for conducting research in the Arctic. The commission will talk about their research plans this week. But their focus is going to be on implementing a new, national Arctic strategy plan released by the Coast Guard in May.
That plan laid out three extremely broad goals for Arctic development — preserving peace in the region, conserving the natural environment, and finding a way to work with non-Arctic countries and organizations that want to get in on development.
Brendan Kelly is a polar science director for the White House. Over the past year, that job has taken him throughout rural Alaska and now, to Unalaska. Kelly’s been talking to residents about the Arctic strategy plan.
“There’s a lot of very smart people with a lot of experience — whether it’s shipping or fishing or the science of climate,” Kelly says. “There’s a lot of expertise here in the state. We’re really just trying to make sure that we benefit from that expertise.”
Kelly says he’ll be using the testimony to help find holes in the strategy — things that the federal agencies missed or underestimated when they wrote it.
On Tuesday afternoon, Kelly will host a public hearing for Unalaskans. It’s the last event before the federal Arctic Research Commission adjourns.
But the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will pick up from there. The state legislators and local stakeholders on the board will spend Wednesday afternoon taking public testimony before they go into a work session all day Thursday.
The goal of that session is to come up with a set of guiding principles for writing Arctic policy in the legislature.
The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission will also be introducing its new executive director this week. Nikoosh Carlo is a neuroscientist by training, with roots in Alaska: She graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and she’s previously worked at the state legislature.
The Arctic meetings wrap up on Thursday night.
Suicide prevention was the focus of about 100 tribal representatives attending the 13th Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit in Anchorage Thursday and Friday. Alaska has the nation’s second highest suicide rate. In rural Alaska, suicide rates are four times the national average, and involve disproportionately high numbers of young Alaska Native men.
Wrangell Medical Center has faced a number of issues over the past few years. Finances, personnel turnover, and design changes stalled the plans for building a new hospital. But now, the plans are back on the table. And the hospital and its board of directors think the project is heading in the right direction.
A Wasilla woman is under federal indictment for fraud in connection with Valley Dairy, Inc., which did business as the now-defunct Matanuska Creamery. Karen Olson, who managed the Matanuska Creamery in Palmer, has been charged with defrauding the state of Alaska and with making false statements to the federal Department of Agriculture.
This week, Royal Caribbean, parent company of Celebrity Cruises, announced that the M/V Millennium will not be making its last round of sailings in Alaska. The cruise ship, which is more than 80 feet longer than the Titanic, was forced to return to Ketchikan while sailing to Seward due to a propulsion issue, and is now on its way to dry-dock in the Bahamas. The passengers who had their cruise cut short have been offered full refunds and credit for a future cruise by Celebrity.
According to Peter Grunwaldt, CEO of Premier Alaska Tours, Celebrity chartered 737′s to fly some of those passengers to Anchorage, where they began their land tours as scheduled. Premier contracts with Celebrity for the land tour portion of their cruise packages. Grunwaldt says that while the cancelation of the rest of Millennium’s schedule is disappointing, that it was fortunate that the maintenance issue did not happen earlier in the season. He also says that, overall, the summer has been spectacular, with sunny weather and a significant increase in cruise passengers. He estimates that, before the cancelation, cruise numbers were up as much as 20 percent.
Other businesses are seeing significant impacts from the cancelations, however. Paul Landis, COO for CIRI Alaska Tourism Corp, says that bookings at the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, which is owned by CIRI, have taken a hit.
“Obviously it has an impact on our numbers. Both Celebrity Cruises and their parent, Royal Caribbean, are great customers of ours, so we have to make some adjustments with the decrease of room nights we would have received from that particular sailing”
Landis says that the Talkeetna lodge will stay open until September 15th as planned to accommodate other cruise lines and independent bookings. He says that, so far, the only employees to end their seasonal employment early have been volunteers. Landis has been working in Alaska tourism for over two decades, and says that while he has dealt with cruise cancelations, that it’s often due to scheduled maintenance and companies have months to prepare.
“In terms of the short timeframe that was put on this one, I can’t recall an instance of this happening before. It really did send ripples throughout the tourism industry at all levels, but the tourism industry…is an industry that pulls together and really works together to make sure that the guest still has a quality experience in Alaska.”
In addition to the impact on land tours and lodging, the cancelation also hits the companies that provide activities to cruise passengers. Sharon Mahay of Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures says that the missing cruise passengers will “hugely affect the end of the season.” Mahay’s had a delayed start to the season due to a late thaw, and will now be facing a slowdown near the end of the summer. Talkeetna Air Taxi also says that they have had cancelations in the wake of the maintenance issues of the M/V Millennium.
Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said in an e-mail that she was not able to comment on how many passengers the Millennium would have carried on its final trip to Alaska this summer. The total capacity for the ship is over 2,000.
A group of people from all over the U.S. traveled to the capital city this week for one reason – stand up paddle boarding.
Jan and Jeff Lipscomb, Carol Fontius, and Bob Stafford went to Auke Lake for their first Alaska stand up paddle board experience.
Fontius describes the sport which has its roots in Hawaii.
“It’s like a big long surf board that you can stand on. And if you’re really good, you can do yoga on or something. With a paddle, you stand up and you just move through the water. You know sometimes people fall in when they first start but it’s easy not to even get wet after a while.”
Sunday was North Douglas. The group took off toward Mendenhall Glacier.
“Heading straight for that glacier was like being in an IMAX movie for me. It’s only something I’ve seen in movies. And to be on the water, looking at it, it’s really surreal.”
Jan Lipscomb says the trip so far has been fun and not too strenuous.
The two couples traveled to Juneau from San Diego and Las Vegas with the help of Florida-based company SURFit. Karla Gore runs the business with her husband Aaron Pollard. One component is setting up stand up paddle boarding trips in different parts of the world.
“Almost anywhere there’s water you can paddleboard. We’re really used to warm water paddle boarding, but I thought we know that it’s beautiful here. There’s so much to see, so much water, so much place to paddle, so we thought well we’d just try it here.”
For Jeff Lipscomb, paddle boarding in Alaska is how he wanted to celebrate turning 60.
“For me, this is something that surrealistically you could only dream about and it has been, two days in a row – all I can say is, this is phenomenal. You’re paddling on the water looking at arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth.”
Lipscomb says being on the water on a paddleboard is different than being on the water in a boat.
“When you’re paddling, there’s the sound of your paddle in the water and that’s it. And then everything else you hear are things like eagles, birds, salmon thrashing around. You can hear and see everything with clarity.”
Stafford describes the schedule for the rest of their week in Juneau.
“We’ll paddleboard at least once every day, and maybe twice, and we’ll go 5-6 miles in the morning, 5-6 miles in the afternoon. And we look for wind or some texture in the water and we follow that a little bit.”
Other Juneau paddle boarding destinations include Amalga Harbor, Boy Scout Beach, Auke Rec, and Echo Cove.
The largest health insurer in Alaska is likely to get a lot bigger next year. Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield is one of two insurance companies that will offer plans on the new federally run marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. The company is expecting to serve thousands more customers in the state, but that growth will come with the kind of uncertainty the insurance industry has never had before.
Jeff Davis spends a lot of time thinking about Alaska’s health insurance Marketplace.
“This is a big, big undertaking for everyone that’s involved.”
Davis is President of Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska. Right now, the company has 10,000 individual customers in the state. And Premera thinks that number could double by the end of next year, thanks to the new marketplace. But Davis doesn’t talk like a guy who may double a segment of his customer base. He sounds worried. He says in the long run having new customers will be great, but there will be some growing pains.
“We are fully prepared that we could lose a significant amount of money in 2014 because of just the uncertainty of who comes in and when they come in.”
That’s because for the first time, health insurers won’t be able to exclude customers with pre-existing conditions. Davis says that’s kind of like letting people buy home owners insurance while their house is on fire. The new law has provisions, like open enrollment periods, to help lessen the impact. But Davis thinks the first wave of people to sign up on the marketplace will have significant health problems. Then he expects healthier people will follow, especially those who qualify for subsidies. In Alaska, that’s anyone who makes less than $57,000 a year.
“For people who are subsidy eligible who are buying a plan today, they’re likely to see the amount they’re paying out of pocket every month actually go down because of the effect of the subsidies.”
But for those without subsidies, individual insurance could be quite costly. Premera says most rates it filed to offer on the marketplace are higher than its current plans. Davis explains the policies are required to have better benefits and smaller deductibles than the most popular plans today. He says a young family of four, earning more than $117,000 a year is likely to see the biggest out of pocket increase, because they won’t qualify for a subsidy.
“There will be winners and losers. There will be some people who [pay] significantly more out of pocket for their health insurance after January 1st, 2014 and there will be some who pay significantly less. And it’s just that upheaval and that mix that worries me.”
Adding to that upheaval is the uncertainty of what the online marketplace will actually look like. Davis says there is still a lot unknown about how it will work on October 1st, when it is supposed to be up and running. He does expect it to be functional, but says it will probably be bare bones at first, with more features added in later on. Susan Johnson, the regional administrator for the federal Health and Human Services Department, acknowledges it won’t be perfect at first.
“Let’s be clear, there will be problems, but let’s not have the news on October 2nd be Susan Johnson had to wait 45 minutes to get through the call center. Let’s have the news be Susan Johnson finally has the opportunity to have insurance that she never had before. ”
Johnson says the Marketplace will be a huge step forward for how people buy individual and small group insurance in Alaska and across the country. For Davis, that huge step will completely transform the way he does business in the state. And he’s prepared for a wild ride.
“You get on the roller coaster and there are some ups and downs and it’s pretty scary and maybe you’re in the dark at Disneyland and you don’t know what’s coming next. It’s a lot like that but as with a roller coaster ride, at the end, you get off.”
Davis expects to get off the roller coaster in two or three years and arrive at a ‘new normal’ where a lot more Alaskans have health insurance.
This story is part of a reporting partnership between APRN, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
The military’s Red Flag Training exercise wraps up today. Representatives of branches of U.S. and several foreign forces participated in the 2 week training, which included jet fighters and bombers engaged in mock battle using live ordinance. As KUAC’s Dan Bross reports, some interior residents are glad it’s over.
University of Alaska, Fairbanks Faculty and Staff gathered Thursday for the ribbon cutting and dedication of the new Margaret Murie Life Science Building. The new building houses the Department of Biology and Wildlife alongside the Institute of Arctic Biology. KUAC’s Emily Schwing got a behind the scenes tour of the new state- of-the-art research laboratories, classrooms and offices.
The smell of new paint and a freshly waxed floor wafts through the air… and on a clear day, sunlight streams through two-story tall windows of the foyer of a brand new science facility at UAF. Brian Barnes is the Director of the Institute of Arctic Biology. He says he’s been waiting for this new building to become a reality for more than a decade. “We were teaching out students in classrooms that were built in 1965 and 1967,” says Barnes. We had kids coming from high schools that had better facilities than the University. That’s no longer true.” Barnes is standing next to Paul Layer, UAF’s Dean of the College of Natural Science and Mathematics. Layer says it’s also been many years since UAF’s Biology Department has been housed in one location. “Biology is the largest major at UAF. We have over 400 majors in Biology and Wildlife and it’s the largest graduate program as well,” says Layer. “And so for us to have a place that has the state of the art kind of facilities that we can use and students have access to is really for us way, way overdue.”
The new building is named for Margaret Murie, the first woman to graduate from the Alaska’s Agricultural College and School of Mines in 1924. The school later became UAF. Murie is better known as a naturalist and author who helped found a conservation movement in the United States. The building itself is bright, dominated by open space, large windows and lots of glass. As you walk through the hallways, you can catch a glimpse into laboratories and research space. Brian Barnes says that was the ultimate goal. “One of the driving principles was to have research and instruction and teaching labs near each other so that undergrads coming to class would walk by research labs that they could look into and see other undergrads in there and think ‘I want to do that too,’” says Barnes. “So that’s the juxtaposition and then we have faculty and graduate students thrown into the mix as well.” On the first floor, there’s a 150 seat auditorium equipped with smart-room technology for lectures and presentations. Instead of chalkboards, there are sliding glass panels at the front for instructors. Across the hallway, Paul Layer tries out one of the new chairs in a high tech classroom. They’re black, wide and round around the bottom and wheeled.
They have desktops attached and even a cup holder. Layer shows off how the desks and chairs maneuver so students can break into groups. “Biology has really embraced the idea of doing a lecture then getting together, working on small projects, small demonstrations, groups discussing problems,” he explains, “and then sharing that with a larger classroom as opposed to sort of standing up and talking for an hour.”
The building is equipped with low flow plumbing, water filters and a high tech ventilation system. Brian Barnes says, despite the wide-open space and the large windows, it’s also extremely energy efficient. “It’s supposed to be the most modern building in the state in terms of efficiencies.” He says there’s only one thing he’d change. “We would have had a fourth floor,” he laughs. ” We would have made it bigger, because we’re still are crammed for research space for faculty throughout, but within the design, actually ask us in a year, because we really want the students in here and we want to try it out some more.”
State bonding funded the 88.5 million dollar project. It came in more than 850 thousand dollars under budget. Construction was completed earlier than planned. Classes began here in May. Students will return for the fall semester next week.