FAIRBANKS -- A University of Alaska Fairbanks parking lot on the main campus is the proposed location for a new home for engineering faculty and students.
The UA Board of Regents last week approved early design plans for a five-story, $108.6 million building for a department that has nearly doubled since 2006 but remains in offices and labs built in 1964.
"Right now it's pretty nearly an impossible working situation for a lot of our high-profile projects," said Doug Goering, dean of the UAF College of Engineering and Mines.
The university has about half the funding for the project in hand, including $46 million appropriated by the Alaska Legislature this year.
The preliminary design phase will continue through next winter. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2013.
A study completed in early 2011 determined that UAF needed an additional 50,000 square feet for its engineering department.
Demand for Alaska-trained engineers meant there was enough demand to justify facilities at both Fairbanks and UA Anchorage, Goering said.
The Alaska Department of Labor projects that the state will need 50 new engineers annually through 2018 and 70 more to replace retirees or engineers leaving the state.
Homegrown engineers are a greater need in Alaska than other areas, Goering said. Industry officials tell him that hiring from out of state has been hit or miss.
"People from California don't know what the heck permafrost is," Goering said. "They don't know what it's like to work in minus 40 or minus 50 ambient temperatures."
UAF engineering enrollment since 2006 has jumped from about 500 students to nearly 900, Goering said. Engineering research money has increased from $15 million to $25 million.
The current facilities have been a factor in keeping UAF from adding chemical engineering and other majors.
"It'll bring our laboratory facilities into the 21st century in a big way," Goering said.