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SFU needs a big fix: students
Recycling and garbage bins are a familiar sight around Simon Fraser University's Burnaby campus.
Not due to any particular green bent of students, but because of their usefulness in catching leaks from above.
"Garbage cans that collect leaks are insanely common on this campus," said Julia Lane, coordinating and external relations officer for the SFU Graduate Students Society (GSS).
Leaks are just one of the more visible symptoms of the ongoing issue of deferred maintenance at the university on Burnaby Mountain.
The GSS and SFU Students Society (SFU SS) are working together to advocate for increased funding to address the ongoing maintenance issues.
SFU's five-year capital plan, released in 2011, stated that 54 per cent of the Burnaby campus' buildings are classified as being in "poor" condition, with another 27 per cent described as "fair." It estimated that $20 million annually would be needed for repairs and maintenance just to maintain the status quo.
Left: Algae stemming from a pipe leak
grows down a wall at SFU's Burnaby campus.
Provincial funding earmarked for maintenance was $4.6 million in 2008-2009, only to drop to about $500,000 two years later, noted Chardaye Bueckert, SFU SS external relations officer.
A few years ago, the GSS asked students to submit photos of problem areas and received more than 200 examples.
Many of the images are striking: a large trail of dark green algae growing down a wall stemming from a pipe leak; broken ceiling tiles; a light fixture repaired with duct tape; peeling carpet and plastic baseboard; mineral buildup on walls from leaks; exposed rebar; cracks on concrete walls and staircases; a rotting wood walkway; and black mould.
The mould in the education building was so bad one faculty member fell ill and her office was quarantined, the doorway taped off with sheets of plastic, Lane said. A robotic arm was sent in to retrieve the belongings of the professor, who now teaches out of SFU's Surrey and Harbour Centre campuses.
While it's difficult to pin down the culprit, Lane said she had daily headaches while teaching and studying in the building. It's not uncommon for students in that building to complain of headaches, coughs that don't go away and respiratory problems that are often symptoms of a reaction to mould.
Lane said she's taught in a room that was leaking and the room used by the education graduate students had a huge leak, "it ate away into the table, a very strange white substance, we didn't know what it was."
To help bridge the gap, SFU has been diverting money from already-limited operating budgets towards repairs.
"That's a big problem and students definitely feel that," said Lane.
And adding to the concern is that new buildings continue to be added to the campus.
"New buildings … are just sexier. People want to give money for new buildings," Lane said. "Keeping things up is pretty humdrum but it's really important. It's really challenging for the university to fundraise around our needs for maintenance."
Left: Extensive mould has been
found in some SFU buildings.
The student groups are calling for ongoing maintenance costs to be included in the cost of constructing new buildings.
Bueckert stressed the students are aware the province is working with limited resources and are raising awareness because of their love for SFU.
"We just want to ensure our publicly-funded institutions are well maintained into the future."
Lane noted that the problem is not limited to SFU or universities but all public buildings, from hospitals to elementary and high schools which all compete for the same pot of funding.
"Yes, we have a deferred maintenance problem as does every university in this country," said Pat Hibbitts, SFU's vice-president of finance and administration.
"There's some interesting aspects to our situation in as much as most of our buildings at the core of campus are of the same age, starting to show the wear and tear at the same time as opposed in another campus, at UBC for example, you have a much greater diversity of age of buildings."
The problem has been ongoing for over a decade and was the focus of federal stimulus funding in 2008 when SFU received $49 million, split between the province and Ottawa, to redo one of the science buildings, she noted.
For years the university received $6.4 million each year for maintenance, but that has been cut significantly in recent years, down to about $400,000 two years ago. That's set to be boosted to $2.2 million this year.
Left: A set of stairs at Louis Riel Residence
at SFU has been condemned.
This year, SFU will also divert about $3 million from the operating budget and other sources to help make up the difference, Hibbitts said. In total, however, SFU estimates $160 million is needed to cover the most significant building maintenance needs.
She confirmed there are mould issues in the education building and as soon as it was found people were moved out. Areas where mould has been identified are being repaired "but eventually the whole building will have to be redone, building envelope and windows and all those kinds of things," she said.
"It is a question of public policy. Where does the responsibility lie for the maintenance of public buildings?"
Jane Shin, New Democrat MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed, said the need for repairs and maintenance is no different from responsible home ownership.
"We're looking at a situation if the maintenance is deferred any longer than this … the cost of repair is actually going to exceed the cost of just to replace. And so we'd be looking at wasting the building's full shelf-life potential and that's a huge waste of taxpayer dollars."
Apart from the financial issue "this really becomes a disturbing safety issue," said Shin, who called on the province to restore maintenance funding to address the most urgent repairs.
In an emailed statement, the Ministry of Advanced Education confirmed SFU will receive $2.2 million for routine capital funding for 2013-2014 and that since 2001, it has received $62 million to address deferred maintenance.
"Ideally, we would love to provide access to funding but due to tight fiscal restraints felt throughout the sector, we have had to work with institutions such as SFU to focus on priority areas," the ministry said.