The Wisconsin State Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted this week to approve more than $1 billion for building renovations and repairs throughout the University of Wisconsin system, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The Republican-controlled state budget committee cut Democrat Gov. Tony Evers' request for the university's 2019-2021 capital construction program by about $40 million.
Citing aging facilities and describing a system in need of upgrades, university officials lobbied for the funding in the runup to the vote. The projects that the money will pay for include an overhaul of the veterinary medicine school at UW-Madison and a $109 million health science building at UW-Eau Claire. In all, the UW system reportedly has about $1.5 billion in deferred maintenance projects.
The budget will now go to the full legislature for a vote and is expected to land on Evers' desk by June 30.
In total, the committee cut $600 million from Evers' state capital construction request.
Universities across the U.S. are struggling to find the money to perform much needed deferred maintenance on their aging buildings before even considering new construction. Deferred maintenance is the term for when building repairs or the purchase of new equipment is put off because of budget shortfalls. Institutions of higher learning are left with no option but to do this when there's not enough cash to go around, but the problem is that, over many years, the backlog of work can grow to what seems like insurmountable levels. As of 2016, it was estimated that U.S. universities and colleges had a $30 billion backlog of deferred work.
Joining UW in its fight to fund deferred maintenance on its campuses are the Missouri Department of Higher Education ($1.4 billion); the state of Illinois ($7 billion); Iowa State University ($436 million); and the University of California and California State University systems ($8 billion).
Add to this struggle the fact that universities must compete for new students, who are looking for the latest and greatest in school facilities, and the result is that these institutions are looking for any way to save money on their capital budgets.
In order to do so, many colleges and universities have turned to construction productivity software like PlanGrid. So far, more than 40 schools such as Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and University of Texas at Arlington in Arlington, Texas, have adopted PlanGrid to create digital records of their physical assets; making it easier, some clients say, to allow maintenance staff to work from the same set of documents no matter where they are on campus or in the school system; and letting them address and track safety issues.