By Mary Chan
Canadian universities face $3.6 billion in repairs to campus buildings and infrastructure, according to a survey released on April 10. Of the national cost, the University of Calgary says it needs $80 million to $100 million to offset deferred maintenance costs.
The survey, issued by the Canadian Association of University Business Officers and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, examined Accumulated Deferred Maintenance, the backlog of maintenance repairs and renewal projects universities defer to future budgets.
"It shows there are some serious problems," said AUCC Public Affairs Officer Jeff Morrison. "It means that a lot of research is being threatened when the physical environment is deteriorating. For students, it means the learning environment is under threat. The surrounding community uses a lot of university resources like the library, buildings and rooms. When they can’t use those resources, it means the community itself is suffering."
Morrison cites decreased government funding as the main reasons universities must put off repairing and upgrading buildings.
"From 1993 to 1998, core operating decreased by 20 per cent," he said. "Universities have had to do more with less, and unfortunately deferred maintenance hasn’t been seen as a priority. What we’re saying is that the governments have to be prepared to reinvest in core operating support in universities."
U of C Director of Facilities Management Steve Dantzer agrees, saying both short- and long-term solutions are necessary.
"Ideally we would see an influx of capital funds to allow us to catch up in the ADM," he said. "Then we would see increased core funding to allow us to sustain facilities at appropriate levels."
According to Alberta Infrastructure spokesperson Cheryl Mackenzie, post-secondary institutes in the province receive $55 per square metre annually for operating support and maintenance, as well as additional funding through the Infrastructure Renewal Envelope.
"From 1997 to 2000, it allocated a total of $105 million," she said. "The U of C got $16.7 million in this three year period."
However, Dantzer says that is not enough.
"In order to keep up with maintenance and renewal, you need 1.2 to 1.5 per cent of the replacement value of the building annually," he said. "If we have $1 billion worth, we will need between $12 million and $15 million a year to keep up with all this. In the last three years we’ve received $5 million a year as part of the ire. We’d desire to see that number move up to $15 million."
As for increasing core funding to the university, the Ministry of Learning is open to discussing relevant issues.
"The minister continues to work within a partnership with post-secondary institutions to address concerns," said Alberta Learning Spokesperson Ed Greenberg. "He’s certainly willing to work with them on any area that falls under Alberta Learning."
Dantzer hopes to see more money "immediately."
"If we receive the money now, we can manage the renovations in a very effective fashion, as opposed to waiting for the system to fail and perhaps seeing buildings unoccupiable for periods of time," he said. "I would worry that certainly if you don’t take action now, we could see some very undesirable problems in the next three to five years."