South Carolina’s colleges and universities have an estimated $1.1 billion backlog in building maintenance that they have put off, the result of years of state budget cuts and shifting priorities.
“It’s been running about that level for some time,” said Gary Glenn, director of finance and facilities for the Commission on Higher Education. “The institutions have been maintaining ... basically the status quo.”
But some help — up to $32 million — could be on the way.
A state budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1, approved by the S.C. House in March, included $11 million for “deferred maintenance” at colleges and universities. But the House did not include any money for projects at technical colleges or USC, which, with 6 million square feet of teaching and research space on its 212-year-old campus, has the largest estimated maintenance backlog.
However — thanks to the increased ticket sales for the Mega Millions jackpot in April — the state lottery announced earlier this month that it has a surplus of $18 million. The state Senate, which resumes debating its version of the state budget Tuesday, proposes to give most of that money to colleges and universities for building maintenance, increasing the total for maintenance to $32 million, including $4.7 million for the University of South Carolina’s Columbia campus.
Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, the Richland County Republican who is chairman of the Senate’s higher education subcommittee, said lawmakers “couldn’t go anywhere near” the $1.1 billion of maintenance needs. “But this will give us an opportunity to allow them to catch up with long-overdue maintenance concerns,” Courson said.
USC estimates its maintenance needs at $346 million. That does not include dorms or athletics facilities, where use of state money is not allowed. It does include teaching and research buildings, projects such as replacing roofs, windows and heating and air conditioning systems.
But it also includes renovating old buildings to get rid of asbestos — a mineral that, if inhaled, can cause cancer. USC has paid $175,500 in fines related to asbestos problems over the last four years.
Ed Walton, USC’s chief financial officer, said state money for the university’s maintenance has been “sporadic” over the years.
However, this year could offer some relief.
While the Senate still is debating the proposed $6.7 billion general fund budget, so far no lawmaker has tried to remove the extra money for college and university maintenance.
Walton said if lawmakers approve the Senate’s budget numbers for college maintenance, USC most likely would use the $4.7 million that it gets to repair windows and update the steam plants that power much of the campus.
In February, USC’s trustees approved a five-year master plan that calls for setting aside $20 million a year for deferred maintenance. Walton said he plans to present a plan to the trustees in June on how to come up with that money.
“If we can invest $20 million every year toward fixing the problem, then the problem becomes manageable,” he said.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.