UAF engineering chases sparse funding, looks to private sector

Conoco-Phillips is donating a half-million dollars to help complete an engineering building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. It is the second large donation by industry directed to the project. But it’s questionable the building will see students anytime soon, given Alaska’s fiscal climate.

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With Conoco-Phillips’ $500,000 donation, UAF’s engineering building has attracted $1 million in private gifts. It’s still just a fraction of the funding needed to finish the $122 million project.

UAF spokeswoman Marmian Grimes estimates it will take tens of millions of more dollars to open doors to students.

“$34.8 million in the capital budget. And then with the Conoco-Phillips gift, then another $5.5 million to finish the fourth floor.”

The fourth floor will be home to a new alternative energy lab and its where Conoco directed its donation. However, it’s the ‘capital’ portion of the equation that’s tricky, given the state’ current fiscal landscape.

John Davies serves on the Board of Regents and is a former state legislator. He says the Board of Regents has made completing the engineering building its top legislative request. And while he acknowledges a capital appropriation looks doubtful, he holds out hope for a general obligation bond.

“I think the legislature in this environment certainly has the capacity to do that. And certainly one of the highest priorities on that list would be finishing the engineering building at UAF,” Bonds says.

Davies says there is a large unmet demand for engineers in Alaska. He hopes the governor and lawmakers take a page from Conoco’s book and invest in the building’s completion.