It's been hard for any other candidates or issues to get any air in this election in the torrid three-way U.S. Senate race. But Alaska voters will have plenty to decide between now and the end of voting on Nov. 2, and that includes a $397 million investment in education and research.
Lawmakers last spring voted to put a list of major education projects before the voters in the form of general obligation bonds. It's an impressive list that stretches from Southeast to Kenai, Anchorage, Mat-Su, Fairbanks and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
The most expensive projects are the life sciences building and lab at the University of Alaska Fairbanks ($88 million) and the community arena and athletic facility at the University of Alaska Anchorage ($60 million).
Both are top priorities of those campuses. UA also gains with an art and learning center at the Mat-Su campus ($23.5 million), student housing and a career and technical education center at Kenai Peninsula College ($30.5 million) and campus renovations at Prince William Sound Community College in Valdez ($5 million).
In addition, worn-out K-12 schools in Alakanuk, Kipnuk and Kwigillingok will be replaced ($128.5 million).
That's a sticker-shock inducing price tag for the village schools, but Alaskans know that the cost of construction in rural Alaska runs higher than in urban areas, and the state is obliged to provide safe, functioning schools.
Other projects include a pool for Mount Edgecumbe High School, a new home for the state library, archives and museum, a Fish and Game fisheries research center at Near Island in Kodiak and planning for a vocational educational center in Klawock.
The UAA arena is of particular interest in Anchorage and has the support of both Mayor Dan Sullivan and the Assembly. The arena will give both the university and city a new athletic and public event venue -- bigger than the Wells Fargo Sports Center, smaller than the Sullivan Arena. The new arena will allow far more team, student and community use than the current 30-year-old center can support. UAA has the smallest on-campus athletic facility in the Great Northwest Conference, despite having the second-largest enrollment of the 10 schools.
A McDowell Group study prepared for UAA concluded that demand at the sports center runs from 4,500-5,000 people per week, while the facilities there can accommodate 2,000 people per week. User groups now turned away from the sports center and the Wendy Williamson Auditorium would find a space in the new arena.
Both Anchorage and UAA have grown dramatically since the current sports center opened in the late '70s. A new UAA arena is not an example of "build it and they will come." They're already here, and waiting.
Given that lawmakers last spring passed a $3 billion capital budget, why go to the voters for a bond?
One reason was that lawmakers wanted to let Alaska voters decide how much they wanted to invest in new education facilities. Another is that even with the state's surplus, bonding makes financial sense. Unlike city bonds, these won't increase any property taxes. And low interest rates make them a good investment now.
This is a big investment in the state's educational system. But it's an investment in long-term facilities that will provide both short- and long-term jobs. Better yet, they'll still be serving our students and communities long after the bonds are retired. It's a good vote.
BOTTOM LINE: Yes on Prop B for schools from K-12 through the university.