The Public Works Board said Thursday the state is making a grave error ignoring and putting off work needed to maintain its more than 23 million square feet of buildings.
Public Works Manager Gus Nuñez told the board maintenance projects have been repeatedly delayed through the recession and that the needs are growing yearly but there has simply been no money to do the work. He said the budget instructions tell agencies to take care of maintenance needs less than $100,000 themselves.
Nuñez said university officials in October estimated their share of deferred maintenance costs at $1.5 billion. Since the system owns half the 2,847 buildings on the list, that would put the total funding needed to cover deferred maintenance projects at just about $3 billion.
Nuñez has said in the past every time maintenance projects are deferred, the state ends up having to pay more money down the road to fix a problem that is now much worse than it was — such as a leaking roof.
But he and chairman Tom Metcalf made clear part of the problem is that building new buildings has always been more appealing to elected officials than maintaining existing structures.
Metcalf said it’s time the board went to the governor and lawmakers and made clear that it can’t continue to happen.
“We can’t have legislators thinking they’re going to get new sexy buildings when we’ve got all this deferred maintenance piled up,” he said.
Member Roy Walker said the maintenance issue “is huge,” but that the state doesn’t even actually have a building maintenance policy.
The issue also is growing also since about half the state and university buildings were built since the early 1990s and are now 15-18 years old and approaching major maintenance needs.
“This is a political issue,” said Walker. “Are you going to vote for a building or on a system within a building that’s not cute?”
He said that, unfortunately, “no matter how you turn this, what it’s going to come back to is that dollar.”
The board earlier this fall approved a capital improvements budget for the coming two-year budget cycle totaling more than $65 million.
“Most of that is going to have to go to deferred maintenance projects,” Nuñez said “We’re going to be just doing what absolutely has to be done for the next two or three years,” he said.
But Nuñez said his project managers have identified about $200 million worth of work they say has to be done in the next two years. That means projects must be prioritized, which means the money goes to must-fix work in corrections and hospitals and the like, rather than parks and office buildings and other less essential areas.
“By the time you get to them, all the money is gone,” he said.
Metcalf, Walker and other members of the board agreed that means they have to quantify the needs both at the state and university levels and bring the whole picture to the governor and 2015 Legislature.
First, Metcalf said, the actual needs must be spelled out: “There’s a lot of deferred maintenance out there but we don’t know what it is.”
Once that is done, he said, the board can make the case to lawmakers how necessary it is to fix and maintain what the state has rather than to build anything new.