Archive for Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Universities’ repair needs top $631M

Safety concerns prioritized

December 18, 2002


At Kansas State University, it's the "Frankenstein room" filled with old-fashioned electrical switches employees refuse to touch because they fear electrocution.

At Kansas University, officials say underground utility tunnels are in dire need of repair.

Kansas' six regents universities have listed hundreds of repairs and renovations deferred through the years while the state has shortchanged building maintenance.

The repair bill: $631.4 million, according to an estimate released Tuesday.

Nearly half that, $313.8 million, was listed for repairs at KU, including $216.8 million at the Lawrence campus and $97 million at KU Medical Center.

"We've already waited too long," said state Sen. Stephen Morris, R-Hugoton, chairman of the House-Senate Committee on state building construction.

Morris conceded such a mammoth undertaking couldn't be handled this year, when the state faces an estimated $800 million revenue shortfall. Morris said building repairs and maintenance couldn't compete for funding against social programs and education. Still, he said, the committee needed to start making a plan to address the situation.

Committee members toured the campuses this fall and said they couldn't believe the level of disrepair at some facilities.

Inmate labor?

Of the "Frankenstein room," Rep. Bob Grant, D-Cherokee, said, "How the hell did we let that go?" Lawmakers said there were other campuses where employees use rope or wooden poles to turn off and on electrical switches because they were afraid to touch them.

Classrooms beneath the stands at West Stadium at Kansas State looked "bombed out," Morris said.

During its meeting, the committee suggested that prison labor could be used to fix West Stadium at Kansas State. Acting-Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz said he would look into the proposal.

"We're looking for everything we can to keep inmates busy," said Werholtz, who also has cut programs for inmates because of budget problems.

Two-thirds of the state's building inventory is found at the six public universities. Counting only the academic and administrative buildings, there are 550 buildings with a replacement value of more than $3.5 billion.

Eric King, director of facilities for the Kansas Board of Regents, said for protecting the state's investment in those buildings, the rule of thumb was to set aside 2 percent of that value per year to finance repairs and renovations. That would be $70 million every year. But in the past 10 years, the state has appropriated an average of $9.4 million annually.

"It doesn't take very long to get further and further behind the eight ball," King said.

He asked the schools to submit assessments of their buildings, and then figured how much it would cost to fix those buildings to a repair level of 90 percent.

Safety first

King said the next step would be to get the universities to determine which repairs were needed for safety reasons, or to halt further damage, and which ones could be put off indefinitely. Morris said prioritizing was a must because some of the projects easily could be perceived by the public as not needed.

Once the priority list was completed, Morris said, he and others could begin persuading the Legislature something must be done. But that whole process is expected to take several months, and the Legislature only meets for 90 days.

James Modig, KU's director of design and construction management, said KU's entire electrical distribution system needed repair. He cited heating and air conditioning work at Malott Hall and fixing the stonework at Spooner Hall as other top priorities.

KU officials say even if a building is in good shape, if there is even one fire hazard, that will need to be addressed immediately and put the building at the top of the priority list.

"The needs are everywhere," Modig said. "It just depends where you start."

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