Ohio State seems to be taking the lion’s share of state funding to repair and maintain existing facilities, despite a newly implemented system designed to unify the funding request process.
Maintenance and repair was an approximately $167 million piece of the list of recommended higher education projects totaling $404.5 million in the Ohio Higher Education Funding Commission recommendations for 2015-16.
The money budgeted for maintenance and repair equals roughly the tuition cost of 16,658 in-state undergraduates at Ohio State’s Columbus campus for 2013-14 school year.
The Ohio Higher Education Funding Commission is a collaborative effort of public college and university leaders established by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in 2011 to form a single budget encompassing all public colleges and universities in Ohio, as opposed to higher education institutions separately asking for state funding as was done in the past.
“Those other states that I’ve talked with, they’re intrigued by this approach, absolutely intrigued,” said Kevin Boys, president of Southern State Community College, based in Hillsboro, Ohio.
Boys was co-chair of the Funding Commission and said in the previous system of colleges asking for state funding, “it’s whoever has the best lobby (that) gets the biggest piece of the pie.”
The most recent budget was signed by the presidents of all 37 public universities and colleges in Ohio and passed by Kasich in the capital budget for 2015-16.
“I feel the funding recommendations reflect not on growth, but on the aging buildings and infrastructure of publicly funded universities in Ohio and the fact that facilities are close to crumbling before our eyes and it is now time to protect taxpayer’s investment,” said Ted Curtis, vice president for capital planning and facilities management at the University of Akron in an email.
In an October 2013 memo to officials who helped form the funding recommendations, Boys and chair of the commission Roderick McDavis, Ohio University’s president, said “of particular note, the governor has repeatedly highlighted the need to concentrate state resources on maintenance and repair of current facilities, instead of building new structures.”
McDavis said that statement originated from a personal conversation he had with Kasich at the outset of the commission’s work.
“It was no surprise that that was the highest priority that the governor had because that’s what we’ve been telling him,” McDavis said.
For OSU, the funding recommendations include a total of about $76.9 million for renovations, including $37.2 million for renovations of Pomerene Hall and $15.6 million for renovations of Oxley Hall as part of the university’s Discovery Themes initiative.
The Discovery Themes initiative, which was launched in October 2012, targets health and wellness, energy and environment, food and food security, areas identified by some OSU officials as university priority areas. The $400 million plan includes expanding research and hiring new faculty.
OSU Physical Planning and Real Estate maintains facility condition index scores of all buildings at OSU to keep track of their conditions, with 100 percent being the best condition, and determine if renovations are necessary, according to data OSU Administration and Planning spokeswoman Lindsay Komlanc provided to The Lantern.
The most recent FCI score for Pomerene Hall was 55.7 percent, while the most recent FCI score for Oxley Hall was 71.1 percent, according to the data.
OSU Administration and Planning spokeswoman Alison Hinkle said repair and renewal projects are crucial to OSU’s success.
“While construction can seem like a short-term inconvenience, its purpose is always tied to a long-term benefit for our faculty, staff, students, visitors and patients,” Hinkle said in an email. “Some construction is to make major new improvements to campus, while other work is to ensure that our current facilities – either buildings, roadways or utility infrastructure is kept in good, working order to service a campus that is active 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
In comparison, the FCI score for St. John Arena was 50.3 percent, while Ohio Union’s was a 96.3 percent.
Other universities throughout Ohio are dealing with similar things, McDavis said.
“The highest priority was deferred maintenance, fixing the buildings that already were in existence,” McDavis said about Ohio University.
The 2015-16 funding recommendations at Ohio University include $2.7 million for upgrades to its College of Fine Arts and $1 million for utility tunnel upgrades, part of recommendations totaling $6.37 million across Ohio University’s campuses.
McDavis expressed support for the plan that the Funding Commission had laid out, but said more money would be welcome.
“We know what the problems are, the challenge is that we never have enough money to fix everything that’s wrong with all of our buildings,” McDavis said.
These sentiments were echoed by Harry Wyatt, associate vice president for architecture, design and construction at Ohio University, who said the new system of asking the state government for funding “really does not decrease the magnitude of the deferred maintenance problem.”
“As Ohio State received their normal huge share, the other campuses received very similar percentages from the previous years,” Curtis said.
He said OSU received relatively more funding than other universities partly because OSU “is a lot closer to the political picture in Columbus than other campuses.”