Editorial: State colleges, universities have huge deferred maintenance needs

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.