U to fight for repair funds at Capitol

The $80 million in HEAPR funding is the University’s top priority.

Than Tibbetts

University officials are fixing for a fight.

When the University’s 2006 capital bonding request heads to the Legislature, one section of the request is almost certain to require a little extra attention: the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funds.

HEAPR money is used to repair and maintain existing campus buildings, and University officials say they consistently have to fight to make it a priority at the Legislature. The University is requesting $80 million in HEAPR money in its $206 million capital bonding request.

The University received $40 million of its $90 million HEAPR request last year.

Donna Peterson, the University’s lobbyist, said the University didn’t ask the state Legislature for a lot of money eight years ago.

“And we didn’t get a lot,” she said. “Four years ago we decided it was an important category.”

Since then, HEAPR has become a significant portion of the University’s capital bonding requests. The 2008 and 2010 requests will ask for $80 million in HEAPR money each year.

Peterson said legislators often feel they can cut some HEAPR money because it encompasses a collection of smaller projects.

Another challenge the University faces, she said, is the absence of support groups for HEAPR as there might be for a new science building.

Richard Pfutzenreuter, the University’s chief financial officer, said fixing components of buildings doesn’t have the same “oomph” as funding a new building with plenty of backers.

“When people end up naming the puppies, you fall in love with them,” he said. “And HEAPR is just not a good puppy’s name.”

To counter the sentimental effects, Pfutzenreuter said University officials have made HEAPR their top priority in the capital request. They have also increased the amount they ask for, but not just because they can, Pfutzenreuter said.

“We’ve got the needs to back it up,” he said.

The University also pays for building repairs with “repair and replacement” money, which amounts to approximately $15 million per year, Pfutzenreuter said.

Orlyn Miller, director of planning and architecture for Capital Planning and Project Management, said the administration asks for what it considers a reasonable amount of money, though he added that the request might still be a bit optimistic.

“It’s been said that we ask for half of what we ought to and get half of what we ask for,” he said. “They’ve got to spread the butter around the priorities of the governor and individual legislators.

“When push comes to shove, HEAPR is a very easy one for them to reduce because it’s the “behind the walls’ kinds of projects that don’t have names, fancy programs associated with them,” he said.

Miller said repairs are continually coming up. Buildings are built to last 100 years or more structurally, but may need maintenance on a brick exterior or electrical systems every 25 to 30 years. Carpeting and wall finishes have a shorter lifespan, typically lasting 10 to 15 years, he said.

“We’re always trying to catch up on that situation,” he said. “Although it appears that we get more life out of these things than is maybe normally predicted.”