Some schools are avoiding 93% of the cost of maintaining their campuses

Many schools are 'deferring issues faster than they're repairing them'

Colleges facing budgetary constraints often defer maintenance, but that may end up costing more in the long term, Lawrence Biemiller reports for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The practice includes delaying a range of work, from fixing leaking roofs to replacing heating systems operating past their expected lifespan and bringing buildings up to accessibility codes.

Across the county, colleges "are deferring issues faster than they're repairing them," says David Kadamus, founder of Sightlines, a facilities-consulting firm. Some institutions spend as little as 7% of the full cost of maintaining their campus, he says.

How four schools are conquering the mountain of deferred maintenance

This is especially true at small colleges, which frequently must update many small buildings—a more difficult task than simply managing a single large one.  

"When you have constraints, sometimes you have to kick the can down the road," says Andrew Dorantes, Harvey Mudd College's VP for administration and finance. "I always tell my staff they have to tell me when the can can't be kicked down the road anymore."

Deferred maintenance backlogs can be "overwhelming," but evaluating each item by priority and cost enables leaders to deal with the problem, according to President Barbara Mistick of Wilson College.

Mistick began her term just months before Wilson's library had to be closed in 2011 because of steam leaks in the floors and walls. Two years later, the board of trustees pledged to spend $1 million each year on campus improvement projects—not including major undertakings—expected to cost more than $13 million.

Health and safety problems are prioritized highest, followed by code compliance and accessibility, and then modernization. Administrators also consider projects that will help retain and attract students.

Yet, high priority projects are not always very appealing to donors, making fundraising for initiatives such as road repair more difficult (Biemiller, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/21).

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