The University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service will keep its offices in Sitka and Anchorage open instead of closing them under a new plan developed by Extension leaders this summer.
The plan means the Anchorage office will move to a new location and become an outreach center rather than a district office. Outreach centers have no Extension agents, but offer Extension publications and face-to-face and distance-delivered programs led by agents from other district offices. Classes also will be taught by program staff and by community experts. Services at the Sitka office will be relatively unchanged, but operations will be mostly grant funded.
In May, the university announced a plan to close both the Anchorage and Sitka offices by the end of October due to budget shortfalls. This summer, office and classroom space with another university program became available and Extension received some additional grant funding. Those changes allowed the university to re-examine the decision to close the offices.
“We knew that the closure of these two offices would be a loss to the Sitka and Anchorage communities,” said Extension director Fred Schlutt. “We are pleased that these new developments will allow us to have a physical presence in these communities.”
The Anchorage office will move to the Chugachmiut Tribal Consortium Building at 1840 Bragaw St. It will share space with the Mining and Petroleum Training Service, a former UA statewide program that was transferred to Extension in July. The new office will have classroom space and use of the university’s videoconference network. It will house grant-funded faculty and staff with a specific focus, including, an invasive plants instructor, integrated pest management technician and a nutrition educator. Extension is planning to seek additional funding for a program assistant to coordinate Extension offerings in the area.
As was previously planned, the three Anchorage Extension agents have been transferred to vacant positions at the Fairbanks and Soldotna offices. The Extension economist will also move to a new office at the Matanuska Experiment Farm.
The Sitka office, which has not had an agent for two years, will continue to have a program assistant (currently Jasmine Shaw), who will coordinate Extension activities in the community and offer programming. The Sitka office helps coordinate statewide videoconference training in Sitka, assists the Sitka Conservation Society in coordinating the Sitka Spruce Tips-Alaska Way of Life 4-H Club, helps with education programming at the Sitka Kitch community rental commercial kitchen, and provides other services, such as pressure canner gauge testing.
Schlutt told the Alaska Dispatch News that 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.
Other Extension reductions have included layoffs, the elimination of four open agents’ positions and a 15 percent reduction to its operating budget.