FACT FINDER: University still footing bill for Fire Science Academy

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Updated: 12/17/2012 6:43 pm
CARLIN, Nev. (KRNV & MyNews4.com) --- It was a state of the art facility built to teach people how to fight the most difficult and dangerous fires, but one year after the University of Nevada, Reno closed the Fire Science Academy in Carlin, the University continues to foot the bill to the tune of millions of dollars.

The facility has been shut down since last December, and has since been sold to the National Guard, but the University is still working to pay off millions of dollars in debt from a program which was highly touted both as an investment and training site, but could never sustain itself financially.
The debt stacks up this way:

--$12 million is what is known as operating debt, which are the actual costs of running the facility. The University is carrying this debt on its own, meaning it will pay itself back when the money's available.

--$24 million is capital debt, which is money the University still owed bondholders on the property and facility itself when it closed last year. The capital debt is nearly paid off. The final chunk will come from the sale of nearly 200 acres of UNR farm land to the Regional Transportation Commission. The Board of Regents approved that sale for $ 7.4 million earlier this month to help pay off that capital debt, but for years students have been helping to foot the bill, paying $6.50 for every credit they take in school to support a non-academic facility. The Fire Science Academy was developed, not to teach students or help them graduate, but to train professional firefighters.

The good news is the University has paid down enough of the debt that those student fees will no longer be collected to pay off the Fire Science Academy bills. Instead, that money will now go toward planning and construction of a new student resource and tutoring center on campus.

UNR President Marc Johnson says it’s critical that those student fees start going toward something students can actually use.

Even though the Fire Science Academy has closed, the University is still paying people to work there.
Two full-time employees and one part-time worker continue to be paid by the University at a total cost of $152,000 per year. Their jobs are to oversee the clean-up of a facility the University no longer owns.

“Oil and water system, all of that training equipment had to be decommissioned,” says Jane Tors, spokeswoman for UNR.

If there's a silver lining, University officials say they've learned an important lesson about planning and budgeting for major investments. In the future, any project on this scale will face much tighter scrutiny from regents, administrators and students alike.

“We see a light at the end of tunnel, and the problem is going to be something for our history,” says Marc Johnson.

The former director of the Fire Science Academy, Denise Baclawski, now works in another position on campus in charge of facilities and maintenance. She was the only one interviewed for that position.The University says when someone's job is eliminated, they can transfer them into a new position without posting the job or interviewing any other candidates.

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