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Editorial: State colleges, universities have huge deferred maintenance needs

Last Modified: Friday, November 01, 2013 6:19 PM

It’s bad enough that higher education institutions in Louisiana have seen their state funding cut by about $700 million over the past six years.

But these colleges and universities have amassed $1.8 billion in deferred maintenance needs.

LSU’s Baton Rouge campus alone has a maintenance waiting list totaling more than $670 million. McNeese has deferred maintenance projects totaling $27.3 million and Sowela’s deferred maintenance tab rings in at $10.6 million. Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus lists $155 million in deferred maintenance while Grambling’s total hovers near $45 million.

This is all in spite of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration pouring more than $700 million in higher education building repairs since 2008, according to Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols.

State lawmakers put $76 million in the state’s construction budget earlier this year earmarked for maintenance issues at the higher education institutions. But with the construction budget bloated with projects totaling more than $350 million and only $105 million available for new projects, Jindal had little choice but to scrub the $76 million worth of appropriations.

However, the state’s four higher education systems — LSU, Southern, University of Louisiana and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System — received $10 million apiece this summer dedicated for campus maintenance.

Problem is that’s pennies on the dollars needed for repairs which range from mold in buildings to sidewalks to federal requirements for handicap accessibility.

State lawmakers did approve a measure this year that allows a university and college to charge up to $48 per student per student for facilities maintenance. At McNeese, that would bring in about $800,000 annually, an amount that is greatly appreciated by university President Dr. Philip Williams, but represents only about 3 percent of McNeese’s maintenance requirements.

“We do what we should do to balance our priorities with health care, higher ed, roads and bridges,” Nichols told The Advocate of Baton Rouge.

Yes, but state lawmakers have been guilty far too long with loading up the state’s construction budgets with projects that may earn them brownie points with voters back home, but are mere luxuries, not necessities. The state should always help those small communities that have little tax base with funds for necessities like sewerage and water projects. But luxuries like walking tracks, performing arts theaters and landscaping have been slipped into the construction budget.

Nichols is correct about striking a balance on priorities. With a $1.8 billion backlog in college and university maintenance projects looming, the case can be made that that list hasn’t been giving the type of high priority it deserves.

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Mike Jones, Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.

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