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Community colleges have repair backlog

Column: Terrence Leas, Riverland Comm. College

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities requested $110 million for its Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) fund for 2012. Typically, the Legislature has appropriated $50 to 55 million biennially to the entire MnSCU system, which includes Riverland’s three campuses in Albert Lea, Austin and Owatonna, and serves about 420,000 students.

Terrence Leas

This year, Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed only $20 million, an amount inadequate to support the backlog of repairs and replacements already on the books for the state’s aging infrastructure at MnSCU educational facilities.

According to state statute, capital budget expenditures for HEAPR projects must cover one or more of the following essential repairs to workforce training facilities: Prevent further deterioration, reduce operating costs, and meet ADA, health or safety codes. These building or infrastructure repairs are necessary to preserve the interior and exterior of existing buildings or renewal to support the existing programmatic mission of the campuses. Colleges may use up to 10 percent of an appropriation awarded for design costs for projects funded from this account. HEAPR also focuses on workforce- or skills-gap-driven projects for labs or classrooms that equip students to meet business and industry standards.

MnSCU uses a web-based budgeting tool, Facilities Renewal Resource Model (FRRM), to help campuses document the deferred-maintenance backlog and estimate the annual funding required for ongoing capital renewal. FRRM helps with planning, prioritizing and life cycling critical building needs such as roofing repairs, HVAC, electrical and plumbing. MnSCU’s goal is to reduce the system’s backlog by 50 percent over the next 10 years.

Campuses are encouraged to invest at least $1 per sq. ft. of their operating budgets in facilities maintenance. With the current backlog of maintenance and the aging buildings on the MnSCU system, these funds alone can barely scratch the surface of the necessary updates and changes. The only alternative is to find outside funding; although these critical projects are necessary, they lack the glamour to attract donors.

Riverland has the following five projects on the 2012 HEAPR list for a total of $3.7 million, which would be a significant amount of the governor’s proposed $20 million.

The Austin campus has three projects: an updated HVAC system in the West Building and two major roof replacements. These improvements will modernize the original equipment installed in 1971 and improve the building’s energy efficiency. The $1.8 million requested is a small amount to reinvest into this important community asset, a building which is worth more than $97 million.

Similarly, the Albert Lea building has a value of more than $35 million. The requested $1.9 million HVAC and roof projects are critical to maintain this core campus.

Investing in these essential, but not glamorous, higher education assets will ensure Riverland continues to provide the skilled workforce our local economy needs. Riverland officials take their roles as stewards of these state-owned buildings seriously and count on legislators’ support to keep our buildings safe and to ensure an environment conducive to excellence in teaching and learning.

 

Terrence Leas is the president of Riverland Community College.