How not to put out fires
A dozen years and millions of dollars after it opened, the Fire Science Academy in Carlin looks like it will finally close, slowing, but not ceasing the hemorrhage of money from the University of Nevada.
Built in 1999 at the cost of $27 million, the academy was originally to be paid for at a rate of $2.76 million a year in a 20-year lease-purchase contract.
The fire academy was supposed to train firefighters from all over the world despite the fact it was built 20 miles from Elko, where commercial air service has been sporadic at best.
By 2000, issues with the academy’s liquid capture system that was supposed to prevent oil and gas used in fires from ending up in the ground water had the university to stop making $230,000 a month payments. By the time it shut down for repairs in fall 2000, the academy was already $4.27 million in debt.
In 2002, Nevada university regents approved selling $31 million in bonds to purchase the academy from the builder, correct the contamination and rebuild part of the academy. The bonds were guaranteed by raising student fees at UNR by $6.50 a credit.
A study prepared under the leadership of former Gov. Kenny Guinn in 2008 recommended the university close the academy to eliminate the operating loss. In 2010, the state came to the rescue with a proposal for the National Guard to purchase the center for $10 million.
Even with help from the National Guard and more money from institutional fees, UNR students will have to pay $2 a credit to pay off the debt on the academy.
Undergraduates at Nevada are paying a base registration per credit fee of $156.75 this fall. That doesn’t count the more than $30 per credit in fees tacked on in the form of technology, student union and a surcharge fees.
With no initial costs, the decision to build the fire science academy must have been very attractive on the front end.
But the lesson for Nevadans, whether paying taxes or fees, is to keep a close eye on our elected officials, remembering that few good things in government ever pay for themselves.