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Student advocacy group sets sights on deferred maintenance

By Daniel Huss, October 13 2017 —

The Council of Alberta’s University Students (CAUS) is making growing maintenance debt an advocacy priority. Deferred maintenance debt at the University of Calgary has grown from under $100 million in 2000 to nearly $487 million in 2016. Deferred maintenance is repair work on campus delayed for future budgets.

In November 2016, the Gauntlet reported student concern about deferred maintenance, primarily in Craigie Hall. Students’ Union president Branden Cave said he’s heard students raise concerns about maintenance issues during his run for office, such as issues about the Scurfield Hall washrooms.

“It’s just little stuff that happens in our labs and in our classrooms,” Cave said. “If we want to bring the best and brightest students and keep the best and brightest students here, we need to make sure we have facilities that address that.”

Cave and other student leaders in CAUS are looking to the provincial government to help address the issue.

“It’s been added to the CAUS priorities to make sure that with the funding framework review that the provincial government is undertaking currently, they look at a way of accelerating and addressing the issue,” he said.

The provincial government addresses maintenance and infrastructure in Alberta post-secondaries through multiple streams.

The Ministry of Advanced Education collaborates with Alberta Infrastructure to work on capital projects such as the Schulich School of Engineering Expansion Project and the MacKimmie and Professional Building Redevelopment. The MacKimmie project will see $262 million coming to U of C by 2021.

The U of C also receives funding from the Infrastructure Maintenance Program (IMP) to help address deferred maintenance issues. Last year, the U of C reported receiving $11 million from the IMP.

Cave said he recently spoke with the U of C Facilities department to learn about the situation.

“They spend about $22 million a year on deferred maintenance,” Cave said. “That’s about 44 per cent of what they need to actually be able to address it within a year. They’re looking at between $40 and $50 million to be able to adequately address deferred maintenance.”

Cave said that for him, it’s about finding an approach that addresses the needs of students as well as administrators.

“If we’re advocating for a deferred maintenance fund, we’re advocating for support for campus infrastructure,” Cave said. “At the same time, if we’re not advocating for student space prioritization, we’re not really fulfilling the purpose and making sure that student space on campus is being impacted.”

The U of C is not alone in increasing deferred maintenance costs. A 2014 study found that 51 institutions across Canada share over $8 billion in deferred maintenance.

The U of C could not be reached for comment.

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