April 14, 2000
Canadian universities need $3.6B in repairs: report
A report indicating campuses across Canada face at least $3.6 billion in deferred repairs and maintenance finally raises the issue of infrastructure reinvestment to a national level, says U of A's vice-president (finance and administration).
"It's an important issue for all institutions," says Glenn Harris. "There's a tendency to see the problem localized to each university."
The report, produced by the Canadian Association of University Business Officers (CAUBO) and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), surveyed 51 universities. Out of the $3.6 billion total, the report concludes $1 billion is urgently needed to reduce further deterioration and costs.
The report cites aging buildings, decreasing funding levels, growing demands for new space and a lack of profile on facility maintenance as some of the factors contributing to the urgency.
The University of Alberta currently needs about $60 million in repairs and maintenance. The problem, says Harris, is finding the right balance between funding the academic side and the infrastructure side of universities, during a time of fewer resources.
Harris points to the dentistry-pharmacy building as a good example of the type of challenge facing facility upgrades on campus. Built in 1924, the building is about 350,000 square feet but only houses 1,100 rooms. Because students were predominantly male back then, there is a shortage of women's washrooms, as there are in other old buildings, as well as shortages of women's locker room space and accessible entrances. This is in addition to the other problems attributed to old buildings, such as plumbing and roofing.
While the building is safe, it needs about $9 million in repairs. "But if we were to revamp the complete functionality of the building, it would require $30-40 million, if not more," says Harris.
Harris says Alberta universities are in better shape than those in other provinces. "The Alberta government has stepped up to the plate in this issue with $13 million in infrastructure renewal last year, plus some extra money was given out this year. It helps us enormously, but it's not enough. The renewal challenges are huge," says Harris.
The report calls for "an infusion of short-term catch-up funds to bring the situation into equilibrium" and suggests federal and provincial governments include universities as eligible funding partners in the recently announced national infrastructure program. In addition, the report urged for long-term increases in base-operational funding to confront the deferred maintenance issue.