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November 15, 2011
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Proposal to close fire academy goes to university regents

After years of operating in the red, a recommendation to close the Fire Science Academy will be presented by the University of Nevada, Reno, to the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents.

"It is disappointing to have arrived at this juncture," said University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson. "I extend my deep appreciation to the staff, elected officials, clients, industry stakeholders and others who worked with the University as we explored various, potential options for sustained financial support for the Fire Science Academy."

A per-credit, $6.50 fee paid by university students is currently applied toward the Fire Science Academy's capital debt. Once the sale of the facility closes, $4 of this fee will be redirected to support new bonding capacity for future, student-oriented, campus capital projects. The remaining portion of the fee will continue to be applied toward the remaining Fire Science Academy's capital debt. Proceeds from the Carlin facility's sale and a portion of the 2005 sale of property at Mill Street and McCarran Boulevard in Reno will also be applied toward the capital debt.

Most of the 28 full-time jobs at the academy will also be eliminated if the closure is approved. A few staff members will stay on until the planned sale to the Nevada National Guard is complete.

The Fire Science Academy's financial challenges result from a long-term, legacy debt associated with the purchase and construction of the facility and a related, mediated settlement between the parties involved. The Fire Science Academy currently carries a $24 million capital debt and a $12 million operating debt. In 2008, an ad hoc advisory council chaired by former Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn issued a recommendation to the University and the Regents to close the Academy if other options to sustain its financial viability could not be identified and implemented.

"The legacy debt has plagued the Fire Science Academy for many years. Despite this, the staff has worked diligently and has developed a program that is recognized worldwide. Their dedication has resulted in a greatly improved annual financial performance. However, the reality is the financial performance does not provide for needed debt relief," explained Johnson.

The planned sale of the Carlin facility to the Nevada National Guard is moving forward and is anticipated to be finalized within months. While closure of the University's Fire Science Academy operations is proposed, plans call for future Nevada National Guard activities and construction at the site, including construction of facilities related to a new Nevada National Guard Readiness Center.

The recommendation to the Regents proposes closure of most of the Fire Science Academy's operations on Dec. 31. Some classroom-based training programs will likely be held as scheduled in early 2012. The Fire Science Academy staff includes 28 full-time positions. If closure of operations is approved, it is anticipated that most of the positions will be closed, while some will continue at least through the post-sale transition.

The matter will be considered by the Regents at their Dec. 1-2 meeting in Las Vegas.

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The Record Courier Updated Nov 15, 2011 10:40AM Published Nov 15, 2011 10:33AM Copyright 2011 The Record Courier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.