Construct and Maintain

According to our 18th Annual College Construction Report, just $9.7B worth of college construction was completed in 2012, a drop from previous year investments. The majority of dollars spent were for the construction of new buildings. But building new is only part of the equation; taking care of the buildings we already have in place is the other.

With the importance of higher education on the rise and enrollment continuing to climb, we will continue to need new and upgraded spaces. We will also need to set aside dollars to maintain the new facilities that we build, otherwise our investments will be squandered. Then there are all of those “other” buildings… the ones originally built in the 1920s, added on to in the ’50s, ’70s, ’90s, and so on. The truth is that a majority of our educational facilities in this country are approaching the half-century mark and are in major need of maintenance and repair!

In a 1988 report, “The Decaying American Campus: A Ticking Time Bomb,” prepared by the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand and sponsored by the Association of Physical Plant Administrators of Universities and Colleges and by the National Association of College and University Business Officers, we were told that by constantly deferring expenses for maintenance, colleges and universities faced an estimated $20B in urgently needed work to repair and update buildings, equipment, and utilities. The total potential need could cost up to $70B. The report also found that, despite urgent repair needs, colleges and universities deferred $4 for every $1 spent on maintenance in their 1988 budgets.

The 2010 APPA Thought Leaders Series states that higher education institutions own some of the most valuable real estate in the world with some of the most significant architecture, specialized research facilities, and beloved sports complexes. Yet while campuses and facilities were identified as strength, they were also perceived as a weakness. Aging buildings combined with rising materials and energy costs can make the physical campus a drag on the institutional budget.

Not performing routine maintenance can cost us many times over; increasing costs, wasting taxpayer dollars, and disrupting our students’ education. It’s not hard to get people excited about a new and shiny building. However, it’s time we get excited about our ability to maintain the buildings we have — giving them new life, making them better and safer places to learn.