Worth the wait: New Engineering Building at UAF finally open

Eight years ago, the University of Alaska Fairbanks set out to raise a structure that could provide the most industry-relevant and comprehensive education possible for its engineering students.

A lack of funding stalled construction for a year, but now the long-anticipated $121.6 million, 120,000-square-foot UAF Engineering Building is finished. Architect ECI/Hyer designed the building, and the general contractor — Davis Constructors & Engineers — wrapped up a flurry of work in time for students to use the labs, classrooms and other amenities during UAF’s Spring 2018 semester.

Construction had been suspended in 2015 after the Alaska Legislature did not approve money needed to complete it and renovate 30,000 square feet of the existing Duckering Building.

In October 2016, the UA Board of Regents authorized a $40 million bond package needed to complete the project, and construction was completed in time for a ribbon-cutting in December 2017.

“Davis Constructors was very excited to be part of UAF’s team to complete the ENNF building on time and within the budget,” Davis project manager Jon Bush said. “The trust and relationships established were key to managing the tight timelines and the complexity of the building systems.”

The Engineering building or — as the University has called it, “Engineering on Display —provides exciting lab and work spaces outside of the typical classroom environment.

The new facility — situated between the Duckering and Bunnell buildings — features a 48-foot-tall by 120-foot-long high bay area with a 4-foot-thick strong floor and 28-foot-long overhead bridge crane. An exterior garage door opening enables bridge girders and other large structural beams to be rolled in for testing.

“Engineering students and the State (of Alaska) will be able to use the high bay to stress large structural members like concrete bridge girders and steel beams to determine points of failure,” Bush said in an earlier interview.

Other features include in-floor radiant heating with the capacity to switch to cooling mode; a woodshop, machine shop, welding shop; subsurface hydrology lab, geological materials lab, chemical engineering labs, reservoir rock and fluids lab, advanced technologies lab, fluid mechanics lab, electronics lab, and research labs; and an audio-visual presentation design theater.

Another significant scope of work included six walk-in environmental cold rooms.

“These rooms are not your simple walk-in freezers that you find at the grocery store,” Bush said.

The cold rooms are designed to ramp down to temperature within 24 hours of turning them on and require 1.5 degrees Celsius uniformity throughout the entire volume of the room. The rooms include one minus-67-degree Fahrenheit ultra-low cold room and five minus-4-degree

cold rooms.

“The cold rooms are designed to test materials like aircraft parts to see how they react to the stresses of cold,” Bush said. “You can take a really warm piece of aluminum and then rapidly cool it down and add vibration to the metal and see when the metal will fail under simulated real-life flight stresses.”

The fourth floor of the new structure includes a terrazzo map of the Northern Hemisphere, with extensive detailing around Alaska, Russia and Canada.

“Because the fourth floor also had a heated slab along the exterior of the building,” Bush said, “we had to create detailed shop drawings of the terrazzo floor interfacing with the other finishes like rubber flooring, carpet and tile, while maintaining the correct elevations.”

To do this, builders poured a 2-inch gypcrete slab over the 5-inch concrete floor along the exterior perimeter. They then blocked out each doorway so a future 1-7/8-inch section of terroxy fill could be added to the floor where there was no in-floor heat and then they added a final 3/8-inch terrazzo layer in the hallways and map areas.

The intent of the map was to show a three-dimensional globe with latitude and longitude lines poured onto a two-dimensional floor.

“The challenge we had to overcome was that as you reached the end of the 3D globe, when you viewed it in 2D, it compressed all the geographical borders (land to water) unrealistically on top of each other at either end of the map,” Bush said.

To represent the globe correctly, the workers re-detailed it in AutoCad to stretch the ends of the globe so it could be viewed in 2D.

“To create the borders, we welded zinc strips on sheets of wire mesh and then attached the prebuilt sheets with sections of the globe to the floor,” Bush said. “Multiple colors of terrazzo were used to separate land masses from water. Additionally, we had to modify the CAD file to work within the bending constraints of the zinc metal strips. All you have to do is look at Southeast Alaska to realize just how many islands we are talking about.”

Davis also prepared a basement lab space to house the university’s new multi-collector inductively coupled mass spectrometer — a van-sized isotope-analyzing device UAF purchased with the assistance of a $580,000 National Science Foundation grant.

Abhijit Dandekar, professor and chair of UAF’s engineering department, said the size of a lab he uses in the new structure is about three times the size of a lab he used before in the old engineering structure.

“I’m really excited to be here,” he said. “Now everything is centralized. Everything is here, so I don’t have to run to three different labs or the teaching assistant doesn’t have to run to three different labs to actually talk to the students. So that’s a great feature.”


Tracy Kalytiak is a freelance writer from Palmer.