- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

BALTIMORE (AP) — Vital classroom and building renovations are being delayed at campuses throughout Maryland’s public university system because of lack of funds, officials say.

The state’s 11 campuses are supposed to have $96 million for work such as replacing roofs and windows and overhauling heating systems, but only about $30 million is available.

The governor and legislature have not increased maintenance funding for several years, and system officials have been unwilling to divert funds from elsewhere.

Many institutions are delaying needed renovations in favor of stopgap repairs in an effort to stretch their budgets.

At the University of Maryland, College Park, for example, administrators say they do not have enough money to replace a 35-year-old water pipe that runs near Tydings Hall. Instead of spending an estimated $150,000 for a new pipe, the school has repaired the old one eight or nine times, each time at a cost of at least $20,000.

At Bowie State University, officials want to renovate the Martin Luther King Jr. Communications Arts Center, which has failing heating and cooling systems and needs structural work. But the school can’t afford the estimated $3.5 million cost and instead is doing smaller repairs such as reinforcing sagging stairwells.

Meanwhile, at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, officials are concerned that they will not be able to keep repairing roofs that should be replaced. Four of the school’s 20 academic buildings need new roofs, said Mark Behm, UMBC’s vice president for administration and finance. “At some point, the patches will outweigh the roof,” he told the Baltimore Sun.

Officials at other campuses say they, too, are contending with burst water pipes and faulty electrical systems. The problems are not dangerous, campus administrators say, but they are expensive and tedious to fix and could contribute to serious structural problems in the future.

Maryland has not increased the level of funding to its public universities in two years. Although Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, has promised that the schools will get an increase this year, system officials say they will have to find new revenue.

Options are limited. Students already have seen a 30 percent tuition increase over the past two years. Regents briefly discussed implementing a $100-per-student facility-renewal fee but quickly dropped the idea in the face of opposition from students.

System officials expect the problems to get worse. Campuses will need nearly $1.7 billion to make repairs in the next 10 years, officials estimate.

At the same time, the system is bracing for an expected population boom. Officials estimate an additional 40,000 students could enroll in the state’s public universities over the next decade, which would put an even greater strain on aging buildings.

Officials are looking into new ways to pay for the work, such as issuing more bonds, enticing private entities to contribute or asking the system’s two non-teaching research facilities to use grant overhead money to help pay for repairs.

The regents are expected to begin discussing the options early next year.

“There’s no favorite option,” Chancellor William E. Kirwan said. “It’s absolutely clear that we have to do something about it.”

Regents approved a policy in 1992 that required universities to set aside 2 percent of the total cost of each institution’s academic buildings within five years or “as soon thereafter as system funding levels allow.”

Regents never seriously discussed how the system would find those funds. Universities have never come close to reaching the 2 percent goal, primarily because state funding has not increased, system officials say. The system receives nearly $30 million annually from the state for repairs.

Schools could take money from the operating budget, meant to pay for items such as professors’ salaries and academics, to finance repairs, but system officials have been reluctant to do so.

“That would be changing the entire mission,” said Mark Beck, the system’s director of capital planning.

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