Lease plan lets National Guard take over Fire Science Academy

CARSON CITY — The state Board of Examiners approved a lease plan Tuesday that allows the Nevada National Guard to take over the financially strapped Fire Science Academy in Carlin by January.

Under the deal, the University of Nevada, Reno, which built and operates the Fire Science Academy, will receive $10 million in state funds that it will use to pay down its $25 million debt on the academy. Most of the purchase funds are federal dollars. The property will be owned by the Nevada Division of State Lands.

Because of the infusion of state funds and other money that will be applied to the debt, UNR President Milton Glick said a $6.50 student fee used for the debt can be reapportioned.

Students still will pay the $6.50 fee, but $4 will go for construction of Reno campus projects instead of a 460-acre academy 290 miles away.

“This is huge step to resolve a very sore point for students and everybody else,” Glick said. “The money has been used for a fire academy our students never see.”

The university built the academy 11 years ago and hoped to earn money by training professional firefighters. But because of its rural Elko County location adjacent to Interstate 80, it has not attracted enough students to make a profit.

Now the academy comes close to breaking even, Glick said. But a report to regents last week showed that in addition to the construction debt, the academy has suffered $12 million in operating losses.

The fire academy will continue to operate by paying fair market value, or something more than $100,000 a year, in lease payments to the Division of Lands. It will occupy some of the buildings and a portion of the land. Other buildings will be shared with the National Guard.

Nevada National Guard Adjutant Gen. William Burks said plans call for moving 20 trucks now used by a trucking detachment in Elko to the Carlin facility, 20 miles to the east. He also is trying to get funding to place helicopters at the site.

Burks noted there are National Guard helicopters in Las Vegas and Reno that go on search and rescue and other missions. But there are none in the northeastern corridor of the state.

“If someone is trapped on Ruby Dome, it take three or fours hours for a helicopter from Reno or Las Vegas to arrive,” Burks said.

The move for the state to buy the Carlin property started last spring in the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee. At the time, Assembly Minority Leader Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, said the Legislature really was bailing UNR out of a bad debt.

Glick said Friday the fire academy will close if it cannot turn a profit. He called the facility “the Cadillac of fire academies,” but added that no fire academy in the country makes a profit, and all but Carlin receive state or federal subsidies.

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