Months after saying they would close, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension offices in Anchorage and Sitka are actually staying open.
The Wednesday notice comes after the university announced in May it would close both offices by the end of October as a result of reductions in state funding.
The Anchorage office will no longer be considered a district office and will instead maintain a limited presence as an outreach center. Sitka, with only one employee, will remain open with services relatively unchanged, according to a news release from the university emailed Wednesday.
Extension Director Fred Schlutt said in a phone interview that shuttering the offices was the best option in May for closing a $1 million state funding shortfall.
But this summer the statewide University of Alaska system transferred the Mining and Petroleum Training Service Program to Cooperative Extension. Schlutt said the transfer of the workforce development program includes additional space for Anchorage extension office employees.
One of the primary reasons cited for the Anchorage office closure included a $250,000 a year lease. Schlutt said by sharing the space, the cost of housing the Anchorage extension office is essentially nothing.
Six employees will remain in the Anchorage office, about half of its current size. As an "outreach center," the Anchorage center will offer fewer services, but still will provide literature and some classes, both in-person and via distance education.
Extension agents working the Anchorage office will still transfer to vacant positions in Soldotna and Fairbanks. Schlutt said the new space will allow the agents to still occasionally provide services in Anchorage.
Sitka's office, with only one employee will remain open as a result of using mostly federal grants to pay for the position. Schlutt said between grants and having the University of Alaska Southeast providing office space, costs for the Sitka office are less than $5,000 a year in state general funds.
"If we can keep a rural office open for under $5,000, we'll do it every time," he said.
Schlutt said he'd heard extensively from master gardeners and commercial producers concerned about the Anchorage office closure. He said the goal was never to eliminate programs.
"If oil was back up to $100 a barrel life would be a whole lot better, but it's not and we have to deal with the the cards we were dealt," he said. "Obviously there are people who are happy and some people not so happy. But at this point we were able to save as many employee jobs as possible for this year."