The Intrinsic Value of Campus Maintenance

In the world of college and university facility management, it seems that there are never sufficient funds to properly conduct our business. So how do we calculate the intrinsic value of campus maintenance? When we think beyond roofs, chillers, utilities and personnel issues, we must consider our customers - the students. What attracts them to our campus? What keeps them there?

We continue to see an increased emphasis placed on student recruitment and retention objectives, and with good reason - in these difficult economic times, they are again being recognized as a significant source of cash! So how do we count this cost (or value) of what it takes to get the students to campus and, equally important, what it takes to keep them there? I suggest that, from a facility manager’s perspective, how our campuses look and function has a great deal to do with it.

In the business world, significant dollars are expended chasing market share. So, again, I ask: ‘What attracts and retains the students?’ It has been said, ‘No one ever wants to join a country club that needs a renovation.’ We know and realize that the bottom line is to receive a quality education but, if that were the only reason for attending college, then perhaps the ‘college experience’ would fall prey to online education. As an industry, I believe those of us committed to college and university facilities management have a significant challenge on the horizon that is only going to get worse. Consider the facts.

  • APPA’s A Foundation To Uphold estimates $26 billion in total costs to eliminate accumulated deferred maintenance, of which $5.7 billion are urgent needs, representing a threat to the capability of higher education facilities to support the missions of their colleges and universities (Kaiser, 1996).
  • The percentages of institutions with deferred maintenance reported in the $30 million to $60 million range should cause concern for college and university administrators, especially for those reporting costs to eliminate deferred maintenance of $100 million or more (APPA).
  • Between 1950 and 1989, college and university facilities - including classrooms, laboratories and residence halls - quintupled to more than three billion sq. ft.
  • The current replacement value - the amount needed to rebuild those facilities - is estimated at $300 billion, with current renewal and replacement needs estimated at $60 billion, $20 billion of which is considered urgent.
  • The aging and deterioration of college facilities is a permanent, on-going problem. Solving it is essential for effective teaching, research and public service. Facility reinvestment has not kept up with the campus’ needs (Rose, Charting A New Course For Campus Renewal, 1999).
  • Pam Shockley, The University of Colorado’s chancellor, told The Gazette in Colorado Springs that she expects $4 million to be cut from that institution’s budget. Education programs won’t immediately be affected, but ‘job vacancies might not be filled, instructors’ pay raises would be delayed and maintenance on several facilities would be deferred,’ she says.
  • The Michigan Daily reported that the more than $1 million cut from the University of Michigan’s Facilities and Operations $250-million budget has forced it to reduce its vehicle fleet by approximately 20 vehicles. It has also renegotiated contracts with suppliers, left vacant positions unfilled by retirements and reduced the frequency of grounds care (Campus Facilities Newsletter, December, 2002).
  • In my home state of Kentucky, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported on December 13, 2002, that Gov. Paul Patton, school superintendents and university presidents met that week in Frankfort to focus not on offering solutions to the cuts, but on showing just how bad they could be.

    Postsecondary education and kindergarten through 12th grade make up 66 percent of the state budget. According to the state budget office, elementary and secondary education could face $266 million in cuts through this fiscal year and the next. The state’s public universities and community colleges might be hit for $74.8 million in that same period. Those cuts would help plug a $144-million hole this year in the state’s overall budget and a $365-million shortfall next year. Those proposed cuts represent 5.2 percent of the roughly $3.3 billion the state spends each year on kindergarten through 12th grade and the $1.1 billion that goes to postsecondary education.

    The University of Kentucky alone would face cuts totaling $26 million through two years. Administrators may have to cut faculty and staff members, eliminate extension agents across the state and greatly increase tuition. According to UK provost Michael Nietzel, such action will ‘set back Kentucky’s chances to grow itself out of its economic doldrums’ (Lexington Herald-Leader, 2002).

    According to the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA), repair and maintenance account for approximately 15 percent of total expenses. Estimates suggest that they account for between 30 percent and 50 percent of repair and maintenance costs, or from 4.5 percent to 7.5 percent of annual operating costs (FacilitiesNet, December 2002).

    So, what’s my point? We are in trouble! Deferred maintenance is reaching record highs, maintenance funding is no longer available in vast supply and economic conditions are cutting financial resources to both public and private colleges and universities. All while administrators are working feverishly to increase enrollment and retention efforts.

    Students are selective, and so are their parents. They possess high academic standards, and they all expect to be a part of ‘a country club that does not require renovation.’ For example, a recent survey of the entering freshmen and their parents of Murray State University in Kentucky revealed that 83.4 percent of those students and parents selected/enrolled at Murray State because of how the campus looks.

    There are intrinsic costs to keeping our campuses attractive. With deferred maintenance backlogs, budget cuts for campus maintenance, increased enrollments resulting in more students on campus and the stress on facility managers to hold it all together, we must find a way to prioritize limited funding.

    There is a significant need for the further study of this topic. University presidents and vice presidents for institutional advancement expect our campuses to always be immaculate (as well they should) for our students, prospective students and the campus community. How are facility managers supposed to cut the grass, fix the pipes, pay the maintenance and operations bills, and plant the flowers when budgets are limited to begin with and they now face significant reductions in their operating budgets because of difficult economic times? ? CPM

    Dr. G. Dewey Yeatts is chief facilities officer and associate vice president for Facilities Management at Murray State University in Murray, Ky. He may be reached at .