Crumbling campus buildings require constant renovations

Jessica Steeno

If the University closed its doors for an entire school year, maybe then it would be able to bring all of its buildings up to par.
The backlog of repairs and renovations that need to be done on the University’s buildings is approaching $1 billion, and its annual operating budget is about $1.4 billion.
The problem, dubbed “deferred renewal” or “deferred maintenance,” refers to the slow deterioration of the University’s buildings. The issue is compounded by the fact that the University does not have the funding to fix what needs repairing, or perform all the necessary maintenance tasks to keep the buildings from falling apart.
“We’re almost in the position of having built a house that is bigger than we can afford to own,” said Bob Kvavik, associate vice president for Academic Affairs.
Since 1993, the list of repairs and renovations has grown from $300 million to nearly $1 billion. Although administrators made it a critical measure of the U2000 plan, they say the Legislature has not provided the capital necessary to keep the snowball of repairs from rolling.
“We probably have a bigger deferred maintenance problem than the Legislature can afford to fund,” Kvavik said.
The problem does not have any easy answers. Administrators had hoped to cut the deferred renewal deficit to $750 million by the year 2000. Although the University has spent more than $30 million each year on renewal for the past three years, the repairs and renewals are increasing at a rate of $46 million annually.
University President Nils Hasselmo said some people at the University think administrators are spending too much money on renewing the campus.
“There are people who tell me that they’d like to turn themselves into buildings, so maybe they’ll get funding because the think we put too much money into trying to solve the deferred maintenance problem,” Hasselmo said. “But we haven’t put enough money into it.”
Facilities Management Director Harvey Turner agrees with Hasselmo that the University needs to spend more money to bring its buildings up to snuff but concedes that the money is simply not there. However, administrators say the problem has become more of a budgetary priority in the past few years.
“It’s a higher priority because the problem is bigger, and it’s getting worse,” Kvavik said. “We’ve deferred and we’ve deferred and we’ve deferred, and there’s no more deferring. Somewhere along the line you’ve got to pay the piper, and that’s where we’re at.”
Some of the buildings have simply crumbled to the point of being beyond repair and should be torn down, administrators say. Structures such as the old Zoology Building on the East Bank have already been demolished, but others are on a waiting list.
“We’ve had to tear down some of the old facilities, and that’s the best way to solve that horrendous deferred maintenance problem that has accumulated over the last half a century,” Hasselmo said.
Kvavik said that constructing new buildings allows some of the older structures to be vacated. He said that when the new Carlson School of Management building is built there will be enough space in the current Management and Economics building to move offices of several crumbling buildings to the West Bank.
“It’s going to allow us to move a lot of units from the East Bank into that building with ultimately the hope that we can tear down Nicholson and Jones,” Kvavik said.
Nicholson Hall — which has an eroding foundation — and Jones Hall are just two of the buildings that administrators have deemed beyond repair.
Other buildings need major renovations, but budget constraints have left the structures in limbo.
“We literally have to go in to renovate virtually everything,” Kvavik said.
Plans to renovate Walter Library are in the initial planning stages, but carrying them out will require funding from the Legislature.
Some buildings do not comply with modern safety and accessibility codes. Some progress has been made in this area, but a significant number of buildings still fall short of codes. Many of them, however, fall under grandfather clauses within the codes and can still be legally occupied.
On the Twin Cities campus, the number of buildings with safety deficiencies was reduced from 80 in 1995 to 72 in 1996, and the goal for the year 2000 is 40 buildings. Buildings that lack proper disability access were reduced from 24 to 21 last year, and administrators hope to reduce that number to 10 by the year 2000.
The University is not alone in its maintenance and renewal woes; administrators say the problem is a familiar one for public institutions around the country.
“It’s a national problem,” Kvavik said. “Almost any university as old as ours has this problem.”
The University of Washington at Seattle has a similar problem that they call “building renewal.” The West Coast university has about 34,000 students, and its campus is about 25 years younger than the University.
But the school would have to spend considerably less than the University would to bring its campus to the point where it only has to maintain buildings, instead of making major repairs. Jeraldine McCray, the assistant vice president for facilities services at the University of Washington-Seattle, said their university is about $176 million behind in replacing systems and doing what she referred to as “major renovations.
“We’ve been working on it diligently for about 10 years,” McCray said.
Whether the University will ever be as close as Washington-Seattle to solving its deferred maintenance and renewal problems is questionable. Nearly all of the University’s buildings need some renovation and its budget can’t handle the yearly increases in renewal needs, let alone work on the backlog of buildings that are in dire need of renovations.
Regardless of whether the University invests the billion dollars, it will always need to invest in its buildings on a yearly basis.
“We will always have some portion of our facilities that need to be renewed,” Turner said.