Thursday, August 11, 2011

Westbrook Hall - Demolished Summer 2012

On the Mismanagement of Academic Facilities at

The University of Minnesota

My friend and fellow U of M alumnus, Mr. Michael McNabb writes:

Higher Education Preservation and Replacement funds are used to repair existing academic buildings. The administration asserts that since 2002 it has emphasized HEAPR bonds in its biennial Capital Request to the legislature in order to demonstrate its commitment to maintain existing academic facilities.  The report includes a table to illustrate that the administration "tripled its average biennial HEAPR request and quadrupled its average award" between fiscal year 2002 and fiscal year 2009.  See p. 22 of the June 2011report of the President on  Financing The Future.
That is the most positive way to describe the situation.  The table shows that since 2002 the administration has requested a cumulative total of $385 million in HEAPR bonds.  The legislature has awarded $178 million, less than half the amount requested by the administration.  Assume that the administration requested amounts that were in fact necessary to maintain the existing academic facilities.  This would tend to indicate that at least part of the academic infrastructure is at risk of beginning to crumble.  (The construction of a new football stadium and new academic facilities, such as the Biomedical Discovery District, may shift the spotlight away from the condition of existing buildings.)

The alternative explanation is the administration intentionally inflated the request for HEAPR bonds in an attempt to obtain a lesser amount that was actually necessary.  Such a legislative strategy would have the potential, of course, to destroy the credibility of the University at the Capitol.  See Resolution No. 1 in New Year's Resolutions for New President.

So which explanation is accurate?  In May 2011 the Legislative Auditor announced that he will evaluate facilities management at the University.  In his announcement the Auditor notes:
In 2010 the University requested $100 million in HEAPR funds and received $56 million.  University officials state that there are far more maintenance and repair needs than there are funds available for maintenance work. . . .

The University's Facilities Management Division uses a Facilities Condition Assessment (FCA) to evaluate the conditions of all facilities and prioritize projects by needs.  An analysis of University maintenance in 2010 found that the University had a much higher (and increasing) backlog of maintenance needs than peer institutions. . . .
OLA evaluations in 1988 and 1991 on routine maintenance on the Twin Cities campuses found that there was not effective planning for preventive maintenance.
 See the May 2011 Notice from the Auditor  (emphasis added).

Michael W. McNabb
Attorney at Law

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