Kansas legislators' desire to focus on repairing university buildings that are central to the schools' educational mission is a practical approach to the current maintenance backlog.
Members of a legislative task force have asked the Kansas Board of Regents to pare its $727 million list of needed campus repairs by eliminating work on athletic facilities and other buildings that might be financed by private funds.
For Kansas University, that includes $8.1 million for Allen Fieldhouse, $3.3 million for Memorial Stadium, $500,000 for Parrott Athletic Center, $800,000 for the Wagnon Student Athletic Center, $1.7 million for the Anderson Sports Pavilion and Anderson Family Strength Center, $170,00 for the Horejsi Family Athletics Facility, and $600,000 for the chancellor's residence and guest house.
Added to these questionable "academic" needs are a number of facilities and operations storage and shop buildings and a hangar at the Lawrence Municipal Airport. KU's repair requests for the Lawrence campus totaled $181,930,636, and the Medical Center's needs totaled $71,603,826
By eliminating such projects at all six state universities, legislators say they could get the overall bill down to about $600 million, which seems more manageable.
That still is a lot of money, and there are limits to what the state can afford. Earlier this month, it was reported that 18 community college campuses in the state also were in need of $149.5 million. While that's a problem, it should be remembered that community colleges are locally controlled and their campuses are not state-owned. The state's responsibility to the physical upkeep of those campuses isn't the same as to its state universities.
Excluding athletic facilities from the repair list makes sense. Observers are well aware, for instance, of the emphasis the KU athletic department has made on raising money for its own salaries, facilities and programs in recent years. Many people even contend that the university could - and should - have influenced some athletic department donors to divert their gifts to projects that supported the school's academic pursuits. Whether or not that is true, it seems that the athletic department would be in a far better position to finance repairs to its own facilities than the university's academic units. If cuts must be made, the state should place a priority on buildings and facilities that support the school's academic and research mission.
It is, of course, good news that both the governor and legislators are seriously looking for a solution to the maintenance problem. It could be argued that it was the responsibility of universities to adequately care for their physical plants even in tight financial times, but not to address the poor condition of many state-owned buildings and facilities now would be irresponsible.