Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tanaina Update: No Return To Old Sports Center Spot, But University Vows To Help

There was a Tanaina task force meeting Monday afternoon, though the time and place was different from what was decided at Friday afternoon's meeting. 

The basic topic was:  How did the chancellor's cabinet respond to the options the task force presented earlier that day? 

The key points I heard were:

1.  The space Tanaina has been in since it opened in the late 1970s is not an option for interim use.  This had been a key question since the task force had gotten conflicting messages from task force members who are also university administrators. 

2.  The chancellor's cabinet strongly endorsed the idea of Tanaina and offered unspecified support - possibly physical space, possibly financial, definitely moral.

Other things were discussed, but those were the two key issues. 

The task force is looking at three time frames:

Short term - For when they have to move out of the sports center on campus because there is contracted construction scheduled.  That should take the summer and possibly to October or so.  For the summer, Tanaina has an agreement with St. Mary's. 

Mid term - Once the short term is done, the question will be where to house Tanaina until a long-term solution can be realized.  There are some options here, but the one that the task force seemed to prefer - getting back to their old space - was shut down by the chancellor's cabinet which said they are committed to part of student services moving in there.  Staying longer at St. Mary's is a possibility, but there are things that would need to be worked out.  The board of Tanaina has to look at the impacts of moving on enrollment, costs, and income, to determine the overall feasibility.  But there was a possibility that the university might find ways to assist if necessary.  My notes say:  "UAA is vested in your success for the short term, mid term, or long term."

Long term -  This period has the most uncertainties at this point.  Dennis McMillian, the head of Foraker is a part of this task force because of his experience with non-profit development and fund raising.  He voiced cautious optimism about the long term and the task force had a number of serious options that they discussed, but at this point they're vague and there were concerns expressed about the sensitivity of publicly mentioning specifics at this point.

The sense I got from the meeting was one of mixed disappointment and optimism.  Disappointment because the old location has been shut off as a medium term possibility.  Optimism because, as reported by the task force reps who presented the options to the whole task force, the chancellor's cabinet expressed strong support for Tanaina and a continuing relationship with the university and that they were adamant about not closing Tanaina.   What wasn't clear was the nature of that relationship and support.  The possibilities of a physical space on campus or financial support or faculty expertise were brought up at the meeting, but nothing concrete was specified.  It was suggested that during this time of fiscal stress, the administration would have to deal with the immediate problems of the budget cuts on campus before they could commit to anything in the longer term with Tanaina.  But, the implication I heard, was that it would be there. 

It was mentioned that the Tanaina situation has made the issue of child care/development centers a statewide university topic.  Other issues were raised about improving the infrastructure for child care in Anchorage in general, because fewer people seemed to be willing to take on the responsibility of small, home-based child care, so the demand for more institutionalized child care was growing.  There was talk of changing the structure of the Tanaina board, which tends to have high turnover as board members' kids leave Tanaina in two or three years, which hurts institutional memory.  Plus the parent board members, already have very busy lives because of their young children.  And for parents new to Anchorage, with no family nearby, it's even more hectic. 

It was a meeting with mixed messages.  Cutting the ties with the old space seems certain, and facing uncertain change is difficult.  Especially with things that so hugely affect family life as child care.  But Tanaina is ripe for a larger space.  It's just that the path there didn't have to be so disruptive and unplanned. 

No new meeting of the task force was scheduled.  They're waiting until after a Friday meeting with the Tanaina board. 

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