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Dan Hounsell: Choosing Maintenance Over New Construction
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It has only taken decades, but a major institution at last has thrown its support behind facility maintenance instead of giving into the appeal of continually constructing new facilities.
The University of Minnesota recently announced plans to hold off on higher-profile construction projects in the hopes the state will pay for deferred maintenance of aging campus buildings, according to The St. Paul Pioneer Press. The university has identified $4.2 billion in deferred maintenance needed in the next 10 years. More than one-quarter of the university’s infrastructure is rated in poor or critical condition.
“This plan places a very strong emphasis on protecting and preserving what we have,” says Mike Berthelsen, interim vice president for university services. “There is very limited ‘new’ in this plan.”
The allure of shiny new buildings is undeniable and understandable, and it is especially strong among the nation’s higher education campuses, where it is essential to have facilities and landscapes that create a strong first impression among potential new students and faculty.
As managers know too well, continually building new facilities has two dire consequences for maintenance and engineering departments and, ultimately, their organizations: The added space ratchets up the workload on already overburdened departments, and it denies valuable resources to older facilities, which generally have much greater maintenance and repair needs.
Time will tell if the University of Minnesota’s plan to shift toward maintenance of existing buildings succeeds. If nothing else, its effort shows that some organizations have the will to rearrange their spending priorities in ways that address the growing needs of existing, aging facilities.