JUNEAU — Lawmakers say it could be a good year to help the University of Alaska chip away at a backlog of maintenance work that could, left unaddressed, reach $1 billion in collective costs by 2020.
University leaders said the problem transcends campuses and the UA Board of Regents earlier this winter said they’ll look to shelve new projects in favor of a “full court press” against deferred maintenance.
The university system is talking of borrowing $100 million this year to get started. Gov. Sean Parnell has proposed pitching in another $37.5 million, as requested by regents, in cash to help.
But legislators signaled Tuesday they may be ready to offer more.
Pat Gamble, president of UA, presented the maintenance problem to lawmakers last month, and some suggested they’re ready to boost the state’s cash contribution.
Directors this year want, among other things, to rebuild part of UAF’s cogeneration power plant, remodel Juneau’s Hendrickson Building and rebuild a physical sciences building in Anchorage.
Rep. Anna Fairclough, R-Eagle River, said the idea of helping the university with maintenance is more appealing than the option of building new facilities. She suggested House financial leaders will wait to see broader statewide budget plans before deciding where the university’s request can fit.
Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, said chancellors from Alaska, Fairbanks and Juneau lobbied collectively this week in Juneau for help. He said the idea of a $200 million annual investment this year has drawn talk in both the House and Senate.
“That hasn’t achieved a consensus yet but there is a discussion to take a great leap forward on deferred maintenance at the university. I personally think that would be a good investment,” Ellis said.
Brian Rogers, chancellor at UAF, said campuses see eye to eye regarding the problem and the proposed solution.
“We would certainly be supportive of any effort to bring the deferred maintenance backlog down,” he said.
Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, said he asked Rogers and other chancellors this week to help the Legislature, which has approved a multimillion-dollar annual scholarship program, address a high number of students that leave high school unprepared for college-level math, science and English courses.
Stevens helps lead a task force that sees a need to boost academic counselling for students. He told reporters Tuesday chancellors also suggested emphasizing summer programs or possibly special academies.
“I asked the chancellors to see if they could think outside the box and try to find some innovative ways, creative ways, to deliver that part of education to our students,” he said of preparatory work.
Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, suggested campuses could also start highlighting the lower cost to students of getting through school in four years.
Contact staff writer Christopher Eshleman at 459-758