Kansas University seems to have fared well in the initial plan to allocate limited state funding for university maintenance.
The Kansas Board of Regents this week approved a five-year plan to distribute $134.4 million in maintenance funds approved by the Kansas Legislature. At the same time, however, they warned that without additional money the deferred maintenance situation at state universities would continue to worsen.
The regents had told legislators that they needed $663 million to catch up on needed repairs. Legislators approved a maintenance package this year that they said would provide $380 million in funding for repairs to higher education facilities, but that figure includes loans and estimated donations that schools may be able to attract with the use of tax incentives.
The measure included only $90 million in new state appropriations over the next five years. Legislators also required universities to devote all of the interest earned on tuition funds - an estimated $44.4 million - to repair projects. Regents prudently based their five-year recommendations on the funds from those two sources, a total of $134.4 million.
The recommendations at least start to address some of the most pressing maintenance needs at KU with a five-year allocation of about $33 million. Key items include $8.8 million to repair and replace crumbling utility tunnels and $4.9 million to replace air-handling systems in Wescoe Hall. Another $13.2 million will go toward replacing heating and air-conditioning systems and making other repairs to Malott, Haworth, Lindley, Lippincott, Bailey and Learned halls, Watson Library and the Art and Design building.
Another $11.7 million will go to the Kansas University Medical Center, with most of that funding, $8.83 million, dedicated to major repairs to the Applegate Energy Center.
At the same time they were approving a maintenance plan, members of the Board of Regents also reminded legislators that this funding represented only a down payment on what is needed. They have recommended that legislators approve another $56.4 million for repairs when they reconvene next year.
Legislators may be displeased with the fact that state university campuses were allowed to decline to their current state of disrepair. They also are justified in taking steps to hold university leaders accountable for future maintenance. But first, they must accept the fact that without additional investment in university maintenance, the situation will only get worse, and neglecting state-owned structures shows poor stewardship of state taxpayer funds.