Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
02/10/2010 08:00 AM Senate EDUCATION
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SB 56-APPROP: LIFE SCIENCES FACILITY AT UAF 8:02:52 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS announced consideration of SB 56. 8:03:36 AM MURRAY RICHMOND, aide to Senator Thomas, said SB 56 is an Act to appropriate funds for a new life sciences building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), which is Alaska's only Ph.D.-granting university and is well-known in the area of sciences, especially Arctic sciences. In a world where technology changes as fast as it does, he said, Alaska has to stay ahead of the curve. In order to do that, the state has to have the best resources, the best facilities, the best scholars, and put out some of the best graduates; this building is designed to help the University do that. In addition, because it is a research facility, every dollar invested in it will bring $5.80 of federal monies into Alaska's economy, and the McDowell Group estimates that the project will generate in the area of $20 million in port and construction activities for not only Fairbanks, but the Anchorage and Mat-Su areas. He said the research that will be conducted in this facility will really affect a lot of Alaska. They will be researching infectious diseases, particularly the bird flu. They will be studying obesity and diabetes in bush Alaska, which is a major problem, and will have a wing for research on sudden infant death syndrome. 8:05:32 AM SENATOR OLSON joined the meeting. 8:05:53 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS opened public testimony. 8:06:13 AM BRIAN ROGERS, Chancellor University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska, spoke in support of SB 56. He said the life sciences building has been a top priority to the Board of Regents for some years now in the Board's capital budget. The biology and wildlife program is the largest single degree program at UAF, and the facilities currently in use are spread out across the campus; some of the labs don't look much different than they did when he arrived in 1970. Modern biomedical science requires much more significant laboratory opportunities for graduates and undergraduates to participate in research activities. He said the new building request originally came to the legislature in a Board priority. The Board was unsuccessful in gaining legislative support for that, so last year they redesigned the facility somewhat and really focused on their top priority areas. If approved, the building will be located on the UAF campus West Ridge, across from the state virology lab; there is a connecting walkway under the street to allow cooperative research with the state. CHANCELLOR ROGERS expanded on Mr. Richmond's comments about the interesting research being done at UAF. The Center for Alaska Native Health Research is working in southwest Alaska on issues of obesity and diabetes, and why there is not the same link between obesity and diabetes in southwest Alaska that is seen elsewhere. This research can potentially lead to treatments for the debilitating effects of diabetes. They are also trying to understand the cellular mechanisms of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which might allow them to understand early which children are at risk for it. Regarding traumatic brain injury, they know that the hibernating brain is much more elastic and better able to handle trauma, and are studying what is going on at the cellular level that might make a difference in treatment. 8:08:52 AM He said the instructional wing of the building will help the University to prepare students for some of the higher-demand jobs and, while people don't think of a biomedical industry in Alaska, the state has some potential there. Alaska also has the people needed for biological and wildlife careers that help with permitting for major Alaska projects, people who staff the Department of Fish and Game, the National Parks Service, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the Forest Service. These are high-paying, good jobs in Alaska. He stressed that UAF is severely space-limited on the research side compared to the national standards on square feet per faculty member, per student, which limits their ability to attract new funds. Despite that, the Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB) federal receipts are up from $6 million annually at the beginning of this decade, to about $19 million a year now. This building will provide additional lab space that will allow UAF to be successful in competing nationally for additional federal funds to support research in Alaska. CHANCELLOR ROGERS noted that because it is already designed, construction on this facility could actually start this summer, and they could have a foundation in by fall if they get the appropriation this legislative session. That means an immediate job impact that will last about three and a half years. 8:11:13 AM SENATOR STEVENS said he went to Fairbanks during the summer to see the site, and was amazed at how crowded the existing buildings are. He asked whether they will reconfigure those buildings for use when the new life sciences building is completed. CHANCELLOR ROGERS confirmed that the old buildings will be reconfigured. The [Charles] Bunnell Building will provide additional classroom space on the main campus. In the Arctic Health Research building, it will allow them to back-fill with some of the research labs that were originally slated to go into the larger bios building. 8:11:59 AM CO-CHAIR THOMAS asked the age of the Arctic Health building. CHANCELLOR ROGERS answered that it was built in 1962; it has undergone some significant renovation as federal labs have moved into the virology building, but the majority of the building is still 1962 to 1964 vintage. 8:12:28 AM BRIAN BARNES, Director, Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska, said the proposed building will greatly enhance teaching in biology, wildlife, biomedical, and health sciences at UAF. Biology and Wildlife is UAF's largest major and is growing. They have over 600 majors this year, and their graduate programs in life science have the most PHD and Masters students in the UA system. Their programs in life sciences make UAF a target destination to students both inside and outside the state, but they are limited to teaching in classrooms that were built in the 1960's, as Chancellor Rogers said. To find classrooms and teaching laboratories big enough for their sections, they have to schedule biology students all over campus at classrooms that can be literally a mile apart. This is an inefficiency that will be decreased with the construction of this new life sciences building. He stated that UAF has excellent teachers, a modern curriculum with more and more offerings in molecular biology, biomedical sciences, and wildlife biology management, and UAF graduates fill good jobs across Alaska. The University needs the excellent facilities they deserve to keep going. The life sciences building is also necessary to support the continued growth and competitiveness of their research programs in the life sciences, including those in health, biomedical research, climate change, wildlife, and social-ecological linkages, which is the role of people in environmental change. The number of grants in federal dollars coming into the state and the number of jobs created have tripled over the last eight years, but without additional modern space to do the research, this growth cannot continue. There is a huge need for knowledge, discovery and intervention in these topics and a huge opportunity to do in-state research on special problems in Alaska such as health-disparity research, which is research into diseases that occur more frequently than average in certain ethnic, economic, cultural and even geographical groups. MR. BARNES closed by saying that as director, it is his job to recruit faculty who are excellent teachers and the most competitive researchers and to provide them an environment is keeping them at UAF once they succeed. These faculty are operating in a national market; they can often go anywhere and get competitive offers. His job will be made much easier by this new life sciences building. 8:16:56 AM BERT BOYER, Acting Director, Center for Alaska Native Health Research, Fairbanks, Alaska, said they are researching health disparities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta with over 1500 Yupik Eskimos. They are looking at obesity and the co-morbidities of obesity, which include diabetes, stroke, and cancer. One note of interest is that the obesity prevalence among Yupiks is about equal to the U.S. average, but the diabetes prevalence is less than half. They are trying to find out what the genetic, dietary, or environmental factors are that contribute to this protection from type-two diabetes. They are also beginning studies in stroke, which has three times the prevalence of the U.S., and finally, colo-rectal cancer, which is twice the prevalence in the U.S. They look at various factors, from physical activity, to genetics, to diet. However, they are space-limited; they have opportunities for growth, hiring new faculty, bringing in new researcher associates and post-docs, but have nowhere to put them. The benefit of this new facility is that it will create opportunities for other faculty to move into the new building and open up much-needed space in the Arctic Health Research building where they are located. 8:18:51 AM CORD BRUNDAGE, PHD Candidate, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska, said many graduate students are drawn to UAF for the phenomenal wilderness life science research opportunities. He was drawn to UAF for the biomedical life sciences program; he studies the consequences of nicotine and alcohol exposure on the developing brain. He added that exposure to either nicotine or alcohol during pregnancy has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. His research is part of a collaboration including two University of Alaska Fairbanks laboratories focused on the cause of SIDS and the high prevalence of SIDS in Alaska. Research in UAF's lab is highly sought after by students interested in careers in either biomedical research or medicine. During the four years he has been a graduate student at UAF, he said he had mentored eight undergraduate students and four high school research projects. Most of those students have wanted to be doctors, pharmacists, dentists, or in a veterinary medical career, as he is. The limited number of vet schools has made veterinary medicine one of the most competitive professional programs to get into. He was accepted last December and will complete his PHD and start school at one of the top veterinary programs in the world, and attributes his success to the education and experience he has gained at UAF. Unfortunately, the facilities and space conditions at UAF make conducting research very difficult at times; their SIDS research is spread over multiple floors and three different buildings. Biology faculty, facilities and equipment lack any central location. The UAF biology department has the largest graduate program and number of graduate students in the state, and it is frustrating that their personnel and resources are so decentralized. Amazing discoveries are being made every day; innovations in research are developing at an incredible rate. In order to remain competitive in this rapidly changing technological world, they need to provide facilities for tomorrow's students today. MR. BRUNDAGE said he is grateful for the skill and training he received at UAF; it has made his dreams possible. In order to continue making Alaska students competitive for professional careers and allow them to achieve their dreams, he strongly advocates for the funding of the University of Alaska life sciences and laboratory facility. 8:21:31 AM SENATOR OLSON congratulated Mr. Brundage on his acceptance into veterinary school and asked what school he will be attending. MR. BRUNDAGE answered Colorado State. SENATOR OLSON asked where he is from originally. MR. BRUNDAGE said he grew up in Boulder, Colorado. SENATOR OLSON asked where he intends to practice when he finishes school. MR. BRUNDAGE replied that he will return to Fairbanks. 8:22:02 AM WAYNE STEVENS, President/CEO, Alaska State Chamber of Commerce, Anchorage, Alaska, said the Chamber endorses the University of Alaska, Board of Regents' FY11 capital funding request for the life sciences classroom and lab facility. This will be the only new construction project on the Board of Regents' request. The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce recognizes the importance of research, as well as the economic impact and educational opportunities this life sciences project will bring to all Alaskans, and urges the Alaska Legislature to fully support funding of this vital facility. 8:23:43 AM CO-CHAIR MEYER joined the meeting. CO-CHAIR THOMAS closed the hearing on SB 56 but did not close public testimony. SB 56-APPROP: LIFE SCIENCES FACILITY AT UAF 9:03:08 AM CO-CHAIR MEYER moved to report SB 56, labeled 26-LS0237\R, out of committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note(s). There being no objection, the motion carried and SSSB 56 was moved from committee.