Sunday, March 15, 2015

Tanaina Catch Up - Monday May Tell A Lot

As you may recall from previous posts, or other media coverage, the day care/development center at University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) was notified that it would have to move, soon.

The center has been at the university since about 1979.  It serves children of students, faculty, staff, and community members and there's a waiting list.  The university decided they needed the space to relocate staff from Student Services (about a mile from the main campus) onto campus.  Tanaina was the space they decided to use.  They used various explanations - Tanaina is not a university entity and they've been subsidizing the rent all these years. (Tanaina's current proposals include paying rent for the space, by the way.)  It's a dangerous location with the Zamboni and chlorine for the pool stored nearby.  Space is at a premium on campus.

The reaction to the decision to evict Tanaina was swift and strong - letters to the ADN, a protest march, people addressing the board of regents meeting.  And four regents expressed their concern about closing a day care center.  I suspect this reaction is what motivated the chancellor to set up the task force that is looking into options for Tanaina.

I've got a personal interest in Tanaina as I've posted earlier in a post on the historical context of Tanaina which also raised issues about what closing the day care center does to the campus climate for women.   I won't repeat that here. 

At the February 20 board of regents meeting I learned that the Tanaina task force was meeting that afternoon.  It was an interesting meeting, but I was headed out of town that weekend and didn't get to post about that meeting.  This past Friday (March 13) I went to another meeting. (I missed one in between.)  So let me try to catch up here.

February 20 Meeting - I left somewhat hopeful after this meeting.  The task force includes Tanaina parents (faculty, students, and staff), the university’s associate vice chancellor for Facilities and Campus Services, Chris Turletes,  Vice Chancellor for University Advancement, Megan Olson, and a few others.  Like Foraker head, Dennis McMillian and Debi Baldwin,Director, Division of Child Development, Rural Alaska Community Action Program (RURAL CAP).

My sense at the beginning of that meeting was that the task force was resigned that it had to find some other spot for Tanaina and the eviction was a done deal.  They talked about the short term option, the medium term option, and the long term option.  There were some possible locations off campus for this summer when contracted construction would begin at Tanaina.  But it didn't look like that could be permanent, so there was a need for a mid-term option until Tanaina could possible come up with funding to build a longer term option.  But then one of the task force members asked Turlettes whether Tanaina could come back after the construction and what other options might there be on campus.  His answer surprised me, positively.  Moving back into Tanaina's Sports Center space was possible, though not permanently, and there was some university land where a new center could possibly be built.

I also learned that the current campus location restricted growth and the Tanaina board would like to grow.  Besides being able to serve more families, economies of scale increased because the child/staff ratio could get a little bigger.

There was talk of working with the Anchorage School District, with Rural Cap, and other organizations in the community.  Things were pretty positive after this meeting.  The task force was going to flesh out the costs and feasibility of the different options.  The short term summer options were off campus, but not too far.  Then, with Turletes words in mind, they might be able to come back to their old space a few years until a bigger, permanent space was built.

March 13 Meeting 

Since it was spring break, the meeting was held off campus and several of the members called in.  The task force had secured space at St. Mary's for the summer.  It wasn't ideal - St. Mary's already has its own day care which, if I remember properly, doesn't meet in the summer. It was economically feasible and pretty close to campus.

But then, after summer, it gets dicier.  They had a table that broke out the costs of each of three different options.  One was to continue at St. Mary's, but that still had a lot of unknowns, including the possible need for a portable building because St. Mary's day care would be opening again.  It wasn't clear they could make the finances break even, but the gap was small.
The second option was to return to the UAA campus sports center space they've been in for all these years.
There was another building that they were looking at that was further off campus and would require a lot of modifications, and the cost was significantly higher than the other two options.

The task force was preparing to report to the chancellor's cabinet Monday (March 16) and felt that they really weren't quite prepared.  They'd done all this work, including other leads that weren't on the option sheet, but timing was tight.

About that point, the vice provost said that her sense of the chancellor's cabinet had already decided to continue with moving student services into Tanaina's space as originally planned, so the second option wasn't likely.  My rough notes say: 
 Megan:  Going back to Wells Fargo [the sports center] is not a possibility.
 After that, discussion moved to adding 'closing down' as an option on the list.  During that discussion someone asked Turletes whether there was a possibility of going back to the sports center location and he seemed to think that possibility was still open, but they shouldn't ask for more than three years, before they moved to a permanent location.

There was a lot of consternation among the committee members as they left to finish their documentation for the Monday meeting with the chancellor's cabinet.

I left with lots of questions.  I'm still perplexed at how out of touch the administration  was when they thought they could just close down the day care center that had been so important to people's lives over the years without any sort of pushback.  They know that sports programs mean a lot to people, but had no sense of the importance of day care in people's lives.   While, apparently, there had been general comments over the years about Tanaina needing to move eventually, the people I talked to on the task force were taken totally by surprise.  They pointed out that the Board of Regents  had recently approved money to renovate Tanaina to bring it up to code. 

On the one hand, the university claims there's a space crunch, and I know in certain departments finding rooms for adjunct faculty to meet with students is getting hard.  On the other hand in the last couple of years a large science building and a health sciences building have opened, an engineering building is nearing completion and another parking garage is going up.  It seems to me that with all that building, finding space for a new child development center could have been found in one of those construction projects if people understood the importance of having such a center on campus.  But while the university itself takes years to get a new building on line, they don't seem to have considered how difficult it would be for a child care center, with an all volunteer board, to find new space and raise funds to build a new center.   They were simply given an eviction notice with a pretty short time line.  It wasn't until they started hearing from the community and the board of regents, that they seem to have started listening. 

I'm aware here that I don't have all the facts.  But I do have the perceptions.  I understand that the university reps think that they gave lots of advance warning over the years.  But Tanaina board members said such comments were vague and they hadn't felt any immediate pressure.  Remodeling, as I mentioned, had just been approved.   They were thinking about the future, but not immediately.  And it's difficult for a volunteer parent board that regularly turns over as their kids move from day care to kindergarten to have the kind of institutional memory needed.  Or the time and energy to do the kind of long term lobbying and support building necessary to keep the administration aware of how important Tanaina is.  It's work the Tanaina parents needed to do.   But as a faculty member, I have to admit my surprise at seeing representatives of different programs speaking to the board of regents last month simply to say, "Here who we are, here's what we do, and why we're important."  I hadn't gone to a board meeting and wasn't aware that this kind of program lobbying was going on. 

In any case, the chancellor's cabinet will have to clarify whether going back on campus to their old space while they develop plans for a bigger, permanent space is still an option.  If it's not, closing Tanaina will become a more likely option.  That said, there are lots of things in play, and no one should throw in the towel until all possibilities are explored.  After all, Out North is rising from its death bed this week. 

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