Nevada Public Works board picks maintenance over new buildings
The Public Works Board voted on Thursday to recommend a total of $507.8 million in capital improvement projects for the coming two years.
That is about half what agencies and the university system requested. The proposed budget will now be forwarded to the governor and the 2019 Legislature for review.
Unlike many past biennia, the focus of the list isn’t on new buildings but on maintenance projects, some of which have been deferred since the start of the recession a decade ago. In all, $145.9 million of that total is maintenance work and another $14.2 million consists of historic preservation work — together a full third of the proposed budget.
The Capital Construction category makes up the remaining $347.7 million worth of work. That list of 23 projects includes $8.66 million to complete the south Reno Department of Motor Vehicles building. Lawmakers in 2017 approved $32 million to build the complex that will replace the now 60-year-old Galletti Way DMV office.
It also includes $13.78 million to rehabilitate and reconstruct the Marlette Dam. Public Works Administrator Ward Patrick said that will be primarily paid for by $10 million in Federal Emergency Management Agency money with just $3.78 million coming from the state. Experts say the dam is in bad shape. The Marlette system supplies all of Virginia City’s water as well as some to Carson City.
The largest dollar project on the list is the expansion at Southern Desert Correctional Center. The budget would add two housing units costing $108.5 million, fully half the state $211 million share of capital construction. Those units would each house 336 inmates.
The university system got its top priority — the Nevada State College Education building budgeted at $61.8 million.
There’s also $4.7 million to expand the Southern Nevada Veterans Cemetery and $4.6 million to build a structure for memorial services at the Fernley Veterans Cemetery in the plan.
Patrick said all the items on the maintenance list are critically needed, some of them legal requirements such as mold abatement and leak repairs, fire alarm replacements and ADA work mandated by the Justice Department. There’s $2.44 million in the statewide ADA program budget.
One of the long-standing CIP issues is that maintenance has frequently been put off in favor of new and expanded construction needs, especially during the recession.
Patrick said state agencies this cycle listed a total of $623 million in deferred maintenance needs.
He said in 2009 and 2011, maintenance funding was less than $30 million and just more than $60 million in 2013 and 2015. He said it was better in 2017 when the governor and lawmakers approved Public Works requests for $114 million in deferred maintenance work.
He said statewide paving work is an example.
“Pavement is one of those things that if you do maintenance, it prevents our having to do replacement,” he said.
He said Carson DMV needs exterior repairs because, “parts of the building are falling off.”
The Stewart gymnasium is on the historic preservation list for $11.6 million. Seismic work was funded in 2017. Patrick said “now the intent is to make the building usable.”
He said another project on the critical list is renovation of the central plant at High Desert State Prison because, “if this system goes down, you’ve got 4,000 inmates you need to find something to do with.”
Board member Sean Stewart said it’s time Nevada found a permanent funding source for maintenance projects.
“We’re still going to have to put a lot of money into deferred maintenance over the next few cycles to catch up,” he said.
Member Tito Tiberti agreed maintenance funding must be found or the list will just get longer.
Director of Administration Patrick Cates said they’re talking with the governor’s office about the possibility of a rent surcharge on state agencies dedicated to maintenance needs but that no decision has been made.
With funding limited as usual, a number of major projects are just being budgeted for advanced planning and preparatory work including the potential $100 million Department of Public Safety headquarters in Carson City.
Altogether, Patrick said, there’s about $20 million in planning money in the proposed budget to at least get some of those major projects started in the process.
One project will study whether to repair, remodel or replace the Southern Nevada Grant Sawyer office building. In addition, Public Works will look into the idea of building a new Las Vegas office building for upward of $86 million but only the planning money is in this budget.
Cates questioned moving forward on several major projects in that way.
“It seems like we’re setting up a lot of expectations for future legislatures that they won’t be able to fill,” he said. “I get the advance planning but I’m concerned we’re setting false expectations we don’t be able to fund in future years.”
Patrick defended the incremental process for major construction saying planning, design and the other stages of a project take time but, then, when money is available, the projects are ready to move forward.