The S.C. National Guard armory in Greenwood is falling apart. Its roof leaks. Ceiling tiles are broken. It needs a new floor, and the mortar on its brick exterior is disintegrating.
The armory is one of eight statewide the Guard says is “failing.”
“We were bringing soldiers back from Afghanistan and Iraq to facilities that were worse here than they were in a combat zone,” said S.C. Adjutant General Bob Livingston, who leads the Guard.
It would take $29.7 million to pay for overdue maintenance at the state’s almost 70 armories, including Greenwood. But the Guard does not have the money needed.
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Statewide, the armories are just a small part of a much bigger problem — expensive repairs needed at colleges, office buildings and mental-health facilities. As S.C. lawmakers debate how to pay to repair the state’s crumbling roads – a unfunded repair job that carries a price tag of up to $1.5 billion a year – paying to repair deteriorating buildings looms as one of the state’s next $200 million-plus problems.
Just how much money is needed for repairs across more than 100 state agencies is unknown. While individual agencies must note their deferred maintenance needs in their budget requests, no one in state government keeps a tab of the total needed.
But a survey of just four state agencies shows the amount needed is more than $200 million.
▪ The Budget and Control Board estimates it needs $62.8 million to pay for deferred maintenance at 72 buildings that it maintains.
▪ The state’s 33 public colleges need about $64 million each year to maintain and replace aging buildings, according to a 2012 study by the Commission on Higher Education.
▪ The state Department of Mental Health estimates it needs $241.2 million over five years — money that could come from the state or federal government — to maintain and, in some cases, replace deteriorating buildings.
Legislators will get their second chance to address the state’s unfunded repair bill for buildings this week. Tuesday, budget writers in the GOP-majority Senate start writing their version of the state budget that takes effect July 1, including money for maintenance projects.
In February, budget writers in the GOP-controlled House tried to address part of the problem when they proposed the state borrow $500 million. But that plan collapsed in the face of opposition from Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
The question now is: What’s the state to do?
‘A leaky pup tent’
Since being elected in 2010, Adjutant General Livingston has chipped away at the deferred maintenance needs at state armories.
The estimated cost of overdue repairs at those armories — $29.7 million — is down from $37 million in 2011, in part because of the consolidation of armories.
The state now has fewer than 70 armories. That is down from more than 100 roughly 10 years ago, Livingston said, and the plan is to cut that number to 55 over the next five to 10 years.
Part of the cost of the armory repairs could be paid by the federal government. But to get federal money there must be matching state money. However, with the state’s budget just returning to pre-recession levels and other needs — from road repairs to K-12 funding to health care — competing for state money, matching money for armories is in short supply.
The more than 50-year-old Greenwood armory is used to train about 90 soldiers a month.
The armory’s kitchen stove lacks a ventilation hood, so soldiers can’t cook foods with grease on training weekends, said Maj. Marty Hanks. Its ceiling tiles also need to be replaced, but that would require removing asbestos — an expensive proposition. The armory also needs a new floor, Hanks said. Then, there is the facade’s crumbling mortar.
Despite the rundown facilities, the Guard’s soldiers carry on, Livingston said.
“Our soldiers, airmen and families are extremely professional,” the general said. “You can put them out in a leaky pup tent and — they care so much about the state of South Carolina and the United States – they would do their job.”
‘Some very serious ... issues’
S.C. armories and other deferred maintenance projects would have received more money had the House’s proposed bond package passed.
The $500 million bond package, which House budget writers proposed in February, included $60 million for maintenance projects at state prisons, mental-health facilities, armories and parks. The Guard would have received $15 million to repair its armories, halving its nearly $30 million in deferred maintenance needs.
Livingston said he was surprised when his agency’s government relations director, Matt Nichols, told him the bond package included $15 million for armories. “I had him repeat it a couple of times because I thought our cellphone connection was bad,” Livingston said.
But after House budget writers unanimously passed the bond package, Gov. Haley came out against the proposal, saying it amounted to running up the state’s credit card.
Some House Republicans agreed. Others did not like how the bond package was put together — in secret, they said.
Ultimately, House members voted in March to kill the bond package. The budget the House subsequently passed included only $500,000 for state armories, far less than the $15 million in the bond proposal or the $3.6 million that the Guard had requested for maintenance.
Livingston said he is asking state senators, who will start deciding this week how they want to spend state dollars, to put money back in the budget for the Guard’s armories.
“I understand the discussion about ... do you want to go in debt,” Livingston said. “(But) we do have some very serious deferred maintenance issues, not just with the National Guard but … the roads and other things throughout the state.”
‘Don’t ever borrow money just because’
After the bond bill was nixed by House members, Haley told The State that deferred maintenance should be paid for each year out of the state’s general fund budget.
Bonds should only be used for long-term infrastructure projects, “not the normal course of business,” Haley said.
“You don’t ever borrow money just because,” Haley told The State in March.
Haley has recommended a combined $152.7 million in spending on deferred maintenance and repair projects across the state in her four executive budgets, according to the Governor’s Office.
This year, she included $46.3 million for deferred maintenance projects in her budget proposal, her office said.
During the past four budget years, the General Assembly has spent $93.4 million on deferred maintenance projects, including higher education, according to the state Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office.
‘Always been a problem’
But maintenance costs continue to flummox state government.
In part, says House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, that is because different state agencies use different formulas and definitions of deferred maintenance, making it difficult to total the state’s repair needs.
“Deferred maintenance has always been a problem,” agreed state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, the head of the Senate Education Committee and a Senate budget-writing subcommittee that proposes spending levels on public colleges.
Those colleges have looming maintenance needs, Courson added.
Some, including the University of South Carolina, College of Charleston, and Clemson and Winthrop universities, are more than 100 years old, Courson noted. “These are major institutions that are old and have decaying buildings.”
White, who proposed the House’s aborted bond package, still hopes the state can come up with a plan to fix its deteriorating buildings. A plan is needed to protect the investments made by taxpayers in those buildings, he added.
“You just don’t build it and say, ‘OK, we built it. Now, we’re going to use it until it falls apart.’ ”
Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.
Growing repair bill?
Just how much money is needed to repair facilities at more 100 state agencies is unknown. Individual agencies must note their deferred maintenance needs in their budget requests. But no one in state government keeps a tab of the total needed. In part, that is because different state agencies use different formulas and definitions of deferred maintenance, making it difficult to total the amount needed. However, a survey of just a handful of state agencies puts the amount needed at more than $200 million a year. A look at those agencies:
S.C. colleges: $64 million a year
State buildings overseen by the Budget and Control Board: $62.8 million
Mental Health buildings: $241.2 million over five years, or about $48.2 million a year
State armories: $29.7 million
Total: $205.7 million
SOURCE: S.C. state agencies