State budget crisis may force closure of Nevada fire academy
Volume 23, No. 5
A decision on closing the University of Nevada, Reno Fire Science Academy (UNR) near Elko, NV, in response to a state budget crisis has been postponed by university regents until October to allow more time to pursue possible funding partnerships with industry.
The regents' action comes in the wake of a report by an advisory council chaired by former Nevada governor Kenny Guinn and prominent business people recommending closure of the facility.
According to The Elko Daily Free Press, regents are unanimous in their decision to continue discussion about the closure, but disagree on whether they should allow until October or December for progress to be shown.
UNR president Milt Glick recommends the regents to continue the discussion to allow more time for the partnerships to be explored. University representatives are talking to oil companies and mining companies who are customers of the academy.
The university is also in discussion with an oil company trade association representing more potential students.
The Guinn report notes that the fire academy has a long-term capital debt of $27.1 million, which is being paid off through student fees. The academy also faces operating and construction repair deficits totaling $12 million. Costs of closing the school after this season could run another $3.5 million.
According to the Associated Press, the report says the academy is well run and recognized internationally for its fire fighting training, but it has a business plan that was "fatally flawed from the outset with unrealistic cost, enrollment and revenue projections."
"While we wish our recommendation to close the FSA could be otherwise, we believe it to be in the best long-term interests of the university, the Nevada System of Higher Education, present and future students and the taxpayers of Nevada," the report states.
For the 2009-11 biennium, state agencies face a mandated budget cut of 14 percent to make up for a projected state shortfall approaching $1 billion. The university gets 60 percent of its funding from the state's general fund.
Located in the Ruby Mountain region of northern Nevada, the UNR Fire Science Academy is home to 25 full-sized live burn props, together with a staff residence, administration building, cafeteria and recreation building, classrooms and observation tower. The isolated location permits year-round live burns, as opposed to the annual eight-month schedule allowed at the academy's previous home in Stead near Reno.
The 426-acre academy near Elko opened in March 1999. Eighteen months later, amidst much red ink and unexpected environmental impact, FSA ceased live-burn training operations. By November 2000, it closed its doors at the new site completely.
After untangling a myriad of legal problems, the school reopened in 2002. That year, FSA trained more than 1,800 firefighters. Enrollment has steadily increased since then to more than 4,000 students in 2007.
Denise Baclawski, FSA executive director, said the school continues to train firefighters at that enrollment level.
"We are committed to providing the same quality services the clients have come to expect," she said.