Bad planning is real deferred maintenance

By Thomas

Your April 25 editorial, “Years of neglect haunt old buildings,” which addressed the University’s $1 billion deferred maintenance problem, raises a broader issue, of which building repair is only one part.
Deferred maintenance, in any organization, usually stems from a lack of long-range, coordinated planning. At this institution, a number of excellent academic, financial and physical plans have been prepared. For example, the University has funded a fine master plan approved by the regents and an equally thoughtful historic preservation plan that has yet to be distributed.
But these plans remain unimplemented and disconnected from financial and academic planning, which also tend to operate in separate spheres. This lack of integrated planning has led to ad hoc or short-term decisions resulting in, among other things, the poor repair of many University buildings. Maintenance demands a view to the future. But if we attend only to the needs of the moment or to one aspect of a problem — its fiscal, academic or spatial dimension — then we have little incentive to look to the future or prepare for it through proper maintenance.
Such short-term, disjointed thinking is ironic in an institution whose faculty is charged with taking the long view and searching out the connections among things. If the University as a whole was to take up that charge, it would have an easier time resolving conflicts about buildings such as Nicholson Hall. Viewed strictly from a facilities perspective, Nicholson may be too expensive to repair. But when we take other factors into account — what academic uses it might have given its size and location; what financial value it might have as an historic, solidly built structure; what institutional role it might play in the minds of alumni and donors — the case for Nicholson’s demolition becomes less clear. Before we tear down such a building, we should be certain that we will never need it again — and we will know that only through coordinated strategic planning.
The primary obstacle to such planning is the same one that confronts all interdisciplinary effort: the fragmented institutional structure and the various disciplinary languages and methods that separate us. Fiscal planners and physical planners, for example, do not think or communicate in the same ways, which is all the more reason why we must make this work. How can the University encourage faculty to engage in interdisciplinary teaching or research if the institution itself cannot plan that way?
We need to connect the budgets and strategic plans of colleges, the pedagogical and preservation plans of the University, the monetary and master plans of the campus — in ways that maximize input and minimize bureaucracy. Our current lack of coordinated planning is the real deferred maintenance problem at this University.

Thomas Fisher is the Dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.