Construction on Campus: Worth the Cost?

By Mariah Brashar, Public Affairs Producer

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few years and haven’t noticed, there’s been quite a bit of construction on University of Alaska Anchorage campus. The campus is growing, fast.  Right now, there are three large construction projects underway: a parking structure adjacent to the Engineering Building, a new state of the art Engineering Building, and a pedestrian sky-bridge connecting the New Engineering Building and the Health Sciences building.  The sky-bridge extends over Providence drive and provides a safe, heated, enclosed pathway for students wanting to cross the busy street.pedbrdge parkinggarage

Photo by Mariah Brashar

Photos by Mariah Brashar

I spoke to Kim Riggs about the building projects and what they mean to engineering students.  Riggs is the Facility Manager for the College of Engineering.

“Well,” Riggs says, “we’re gaining a lot of lab space.  One of the things we’re lacking in this building is lab space and space that was actually designated and built for lab space….It is tripling our space.  The new building is about twice the size of this building and once we finish the new building, we are going to move out of this building to renovate it completely.”

After the renovation, Riggs says, the old engineering building will be state of the art and will be moved back into.  The parking structure that is under construction is located just south of the old engineering building and it will provide parking for students trying to access buildings near UAA Drive.

I also spoke to some engineering students about the project.  Rilley Rongdale and Gabrielle Thomas gave me their thoughts on the new building.  The two explained that, since the old Engineering building lacks classroom and lab and space, their classes are scattered all over campus.  They also expressed frustration about the parking situation near UAA Drive.

Thomas says he might use the sky bridge to make parking easier, since the current parking lot near the old Engineering building is always full.  While the new parking structure will help alleviate this issue, the sky bridge will also provide access to parking lots on the side of campus dominated by Providence and the Alaska Native Medical Center.

Another student, accounting major Rebecca Constant-Porter, says she likes the idea.  She thinks that the new engineering building will help UAA become a stronger school.  She also says expanding the enclosed walkway system, or the Spine, is a good idea.

“The bridge going across, ” she says, “I think it’s beautiful, actually.”

The vaulted steel beams arcing across Providence Drive do paint an impressive picture.  Although the bridge is far from done, once completed it will be a heated, furnished walkway, sided entirely in glass.

Over spring break, Providence Drive briefly closed so that construction on the bridge could re-commence.  Over the weekend workers erected scaffolding that will allow them to continue work with out further road closures.

So, it’s lovely and students are excited about new classrooms and lab space.  Of course, we still have one question: how much is this costing us?  In light of recent tuition hikes and concerns about loss of funding from the state, some might worry that huge investments like this one, might not be responsible.  And yes, the projects are expensive, to put it mildly.  To hammer out the details of what costs what, I contacted John Hansen, the Senior Project Manager for the University.  He broke down the prices for me.  All told, the University is shelling out a whopping 123.2 million dollars for the projects.

The sky bridge alone is slated to cost about 6 million dollars.  Is it worth it?  As Riggs explained to me, one thing we have to consider is that the money was already budgeted for this project.  While it’s certainly an extremely expensive project, it isn’t taking the metaphorical food out of our mouths: it’s more money the University has already spent.  And the projects will, obviously, provide benefits for students and for the University.  The bridge, for one, won’t just be a nice hang-out area and a pretty piece of architecture, it will also provide a safe, warm means for students, faculty, and staff to cross Providence Drive.  At the same time, it will ease vehicular traffic stoppage by re-routing pedestrian traffic in one of the most crowed parts of the campus.

All three projects should be completed by next fall, but until then, we’ll have to be content with good old-fashioned cross walks.

For KRUA, I’m Mariah Brashar

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