Report states local universities need millions of dollars of maintenance

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JEFFERSON CITY - A report released by the Missouri Department of Higher Education shows most public universities in the state require millions of dollars worth of repairs. The combined cost of all maintenance needed is around $1.4 billion.

Two local colleges are part of that massive number. One is Lincoln University in Jefferson City. The other is the University of Missouri in Columbia.

The report estimates Lincoln University requires $70 million to fix all of its deferred maintenance. Deferred maintenance is maintenance that has been put off for later due to budget constraints. Every time a college saves work for later, though, the problem becomes more expensive due to inflation or the problem worsening.

According to the Department of Higher Education, Lincoln needs to fix all sorts of things, like chipping paint, broken air conditioning systems, loosening bricks that haven't been waterproofed for years, and leaking pipes. Several systems needed to occupy the buildings, like electricity and plumbing, are "severely challenged" and "the likelihood that one of these systems will fail, resulting in major disruption and expense, increases every year."

The buildings singled out for needing maintenance are Elliff Hall, Founder's Hall, Martin Luther King Hall, Mitchell Hall, and the Thompkins Center.

These needed repairs could be costly to the learning environment of students, said the report.

"I don't know how anyone is supposed to study when, when you have to go to the bathroom, bathrooms aren't cleaned as much, if your air conditioning is going out, also it rattles, you can also hear creaking in the walls some times, which can disturb you from your studies," Lincoln student Jessi Adolph said.

MU needs even more money for its deferred maintenance-- approximately $404 million. The Department of Higher Education report says around 50 percent of the total area of instructional buildings on campus have a "rating of below average or worse." 40 percent haven't had a major renovation in over 50 years.

"Anytime we do a review, we're going to look at it and say, 'okay, well this building may be worse off and need more maintenance done to it, if it does not have a significant impact on our academic research mission, or, if after doing all that work, it doesn't significantly improve our ability to do our academic research missions, then that's not going to be our number one repair priority," MU spokesman Christian Basi said.

Something the report credits as being a driving force in deferred maintenance is the lack of funding from the state. Funding in general declined by $221 million dollars between fiscal year 2017 and 2018, and funding for capital improvement projects is not only inconsistent, it's not a guarantee when it's available.

"Lincoln University has for years understood that certain projects are difficult to fund due to limited resources within the state budget," Lincoln University spokesperson Misty Young wrote in a statement. "As frugal stewards of our state dollars, new facilities and even certain maintenance projects are truly considered 'wish list items.'"

Sometimes universities will be on the verge of receiving needed funding for a project, only to have the legislation die or the governor veto it.

Right now, both Lincoln and MU have capital improvement improvement projects they'd like to take on.

Lincoln needs around $135 million for renovations and two new buildings, and MU needs $220.8 million dollars for a new medical research building, called the Translational Precision Medicine Complex.

MU wants $50 million each from the state and federal government for the new complex, and it hopes the new facility will boost productivity and research funding.

Again, Lincoln and MU need a lot of money to completely fix everything the report says needs repairs, but that puts them in the same boat as most other public universities.