Iowa's universities make delayed maintenance top priority

Some buildings cheaper to raze than repair

Diane Heldt
Published: June 14 2012 | 5:30 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 8:25 pm in
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The budget cuts of the past several years contributed to an increase in delayed building and facility repairs at the state’s public universities, officials say, though they add they have been working to make the maintenance a priority.

In the past five years, deferred maintenance for general fund buildings at the regent institutions increased from $416.7 million in 2007 to $477 million in fall 2011, a 14.5 percent rise.

Those totals reflect delayed maintenance on general fund buildings at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, the University of Northern Iowa and the two special schools overseen by the state Board of Regents. General fund buildings are academic, research and administrative space, but do not include residence halls or University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.

Deferred maintenance is a moving target that ebbs and flows, university officials said. It’s reduced when repairs are made to facilities or when obsolete buildings are razed, but it increases with the constant aging of those facilities. Several officials said they believe state budget cuts in the wake of the 2008 recession have affected deferred maintenance, as fewer dollars were available to address deficiencies.

ISU tallied nearly $235 million in deferred maintenance on general fund buildings in 2011, a nearly 29 percent increase since 2007, according to a recent report to the regents.

“Those numbers are significant,” ISU Senior Vice President for Business and Finance Warren Madden said, noting ISU’s facilities staff has been reduced significantly in the past decade, which impacts maintenance. “At some point it’s clear we have a backlog that needs to be addressed and the challenge is how to do that.”

ISU officials this fiscal year and next committed to increasing by $1 million annually, to $3.5 million, the amount of university funds directed to deferred maintenance. The goal is to bring that spending up to $7 million or $8 million, said Dave Miller, associate vice president for facilities planning and management. The amount needed to replace ISU’s existing academic and administrative buildings is nearly $3 billion, so less than 10 percent of the assets are considered in poor shape, Miller said.

“In spite of the tight budgets, deferred maintenance is not an area that I feel badly about, but it does take a lot of our efforts and thoughts,” Miller said.

Showing age

Buildings typically require major renovations at 25 years, and 34 percent of the academic, research and administrative space at Iowa’s regents institutions was built between 1961 and 1980, meaning many of those buildings are showing significant age, officials said.

Money for fire and environmental safety and deferred maintenance has been the top legislative priority for the regents in seeking state funding for capital projects the past several years, said regents Policy and Operations Officer Joan Racki, “so obviously it is a concern.”

If a roof is replaced when it needs to be, that’s regular maintenance. It becomes deferred maintenance when that repair is delayed, sometimes for years. In that time, officials say, the roof could start to leak, damaging the drywall and the carpet, making it even more costly.

With recent budget cuts — the fiscal year that begins July 1 is the first state funding increase to university operating budgets since 2009 — UNI is in a position where “we don’t have as many funds to pay for preventive maintenance, which will eventually escalate deferred maintenance,” said Michael Hager, vice president for administration and financial services.

Small increases

UI officials were able to increase incrementally over the past few years the amount the university contributes from the general fund to deferred maintenance for smaller projects, which this year was $3.7 million, said Don Guckert, associate vice president and director of facilities management.

Combining that university money with state support directed at capital projects, the UI invested an annual average of $17.5 million for the past five years on deferred maintenance, he said.

And while the UI’s $183.4 million in deferred maintenance on general fund buildings may seem like a scary number, Guckert said, it’s just more than 5 percent of the replacement value of those buildings, which is considered a healthy level.

The Pharmacy Building is now considered the worst on the UI’s deferred maintenance rolls, and it has the highest energy costs per square foot on campus. UI officials plan to raze it and replace it in the coming years with a $90 million facility, of which they hope to get $65 million from the state. That demolition will take $17 million off the deferred maintenance backlog.

“We would spend almost half the value of that old Pharmacy Building making it like it was in 1960 instead of what it needs to be today,” Guckert said.

Students handicapped

Pharmacy Dean Donald Letendre said he can’t fault the university for sinking less money into an aging building they know will come down in a few years.

But, Letendre said, pharmacy students and faculty are “really, truly handicapped” by the state of the facility, with its aging and outdated labs, inadequate heating and cooling systems and space constraints.

“The university, given what it has to work with, has done a remarkably good job in trying to preserve this thing, at least make it functional enough for us to continue to do our job.” Letendre said. “But is our job hampered, in educational delivery, science, fellowship, building a sense of community? There’s absolutely no question.”

 
 

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