Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Looking Good

In this issue we are publishing our 20th annual report on college construction. The recent story has been too many projects needed — too little money. This year, more institutions were able to check a project off of their wish lists.

“In 2014, colleges put more than $12 billion worth of construction in place, the most construction completed in a calendar year since 2008. This was not only a boom year in terms of total construction; it was also a banner year in terms of new buildings. Almost $9.5 billion went towards entirely new buildings, the most since 2007.” (Read the full 2015 College Construction Report starting on page 17, or download your copy from the web at webCPM.com.)

The numbers we report follow the trends seen in the construction industry as a whole. According to a recent Association of General Contractors survey, 80 percent of construction firms plan to expand their headcount in 2015 as contractors foresee a growing demand in most market sectors, including schools (8 percent) and higher education (15 percent). The contractors’ challenge this time will not be finding jobs, but instead finding enough skilled workers to do the job — another reason we need good schools.

Some institutions are looking for dollars to build new in order to handle aging infrastructure, extensive wear and tear, changes in programs and growing enrollments. Almost every institution is looking for dollars to handle deferred maintenance issues and preserve the facilities they have. A 1995 study done by APPA, NACUBO and Sallie Mae estimated $26 billion in accumulated deferred maintenance. That was 20 years ago, and the number keeps growing. Funding levels for deferred maintenance continue to come up short and the backlog of work increases, along with the costs created by delay.

In Arizona, my home state, the Arizona Constitution requires the state to fund “proper maintenance” of state educational facilities. The universities submit their requests, and then the state allocates monies — until the available funds run out. Everything else is “deferred.” The last number I saw for all three Arizona public universities was over a half-billion dollars in deferred maintenance costs. Unfortunately, this is a story that is repeated across the entire country.

Those who can’t separate need from want often irritate me. Deferred maintenance falls into the category of “need.” Hopefully in the coming year the idea of maintaining our facilities and protecting our investment will gain steam — and funding!

This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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