Over $1 billion needed to fix Missouri’s crumbling college campus buildings

At the University Missouri-Kansas City, 112 faculty members received buyout offers.
At the University Missouri-Kansas City, 112 faculty members received buyout offers. File photo

When state officials this year looked into the condition of two-and four-year college buildings across Missouri, they found old and failing pipes, bad roofs, water-stained ceilings, hole-ridden carpets and more.

A new report says the state’s 2,453 higher education buildings need more than $1.4 billion in maintenance. A good chunk of the need is sitting at the University of Missouri in Columbia and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

As it is for public college campuses across the state, and across the country, officials said, MU and UMKC are millions of dollars behind in building upkeep and may never catch up.

“Many of these issues cannot be resolved in the short term as capital projects and budgeting is often a multi-year process,” the report states. “As a result, many of these conditions will worsen before they are addressed, significantly increasing costs.”

The report, according to Missouri Department of Higher Education officials, is intended to guide the next decade of capital improvement priorities.

“The need is dire,” said Robert A. Simmons, associate vice chancellor at UMKC, where the maintenance backlog is up to more than $174 million and increasing about $30 million each year. “We are fighting a losing battle, and it is not a good feeling.”

Lest skeptics chalk up the ratty rugs and chipping paint to mere cosmetics, Simmons says that public colleges are in steep competition to attract students. The maintenance could mean the difference between choosing Missouri schools or going elsewhere.

Simmons said the problem exists for three primary reasons:

Inflation: Every year a problem is not tended to, the cost of labor and materials increases.

Deterioration: The longer a problem sits uncorrected, the bigger it becomes, costing more to repair.

Funding: The money the university gets from the state is shrinking, and because enrollment dipped, dollars from tuition are down too.

“We are underfunded to do the repairs by a significant number,” Simmons said. “Just to tread water at UMKC we should be investing $19.9 million a year. We are funded by about a third of that.”

At MU, officials said that while they have made changes in how money is spent to improve buildings, the university still has a $780 million backlog that is growing by an estimated $35 million a year. That’s after having completed about $56 million in deferred maintenance and updates at six academic and residence halls over the last nine years.

MU officials were doing a number of patchwork maintenance projects, said Christian Basi, university spokesman. Now, the university is investing in full renovations on primary facilities, one by one. Cost savings are redirected to the next big renovation.

UMKC is following a similar strategy, and “we are being very careful in prioritizing what we can do. We are focusing on things that would be catastrophic if they weren’t fixed, and things that protect building content like roofs,” Simmons said. They are also focusing on safety issues, such as doors too warped to close or locking mechanisms that no longer work.

Aside from the maintenance money that comes from the universities’ operating budgets, both universities have requested millions from the state to be used toward new construction.

MU is asking for $50 million toward construction of its $221 million Translational Precision Medicine Complex to be funded with state, federal and donated dollars.

UMKC is asking for $83 million in capital improvements on the campus, including $33 million for the second phase of renovations to the Spencer Chemistry and Biological Sciences Building, built in the 1960s during the space race. UMKC is also asking for $50 million toward a $100 million new conservatory of music.

University of Missouri System officials have said they are glad the deferred maintenance issues have been aired in the report so state leaders are aware of the circumstances.

“We are continuing to figure out how to operate more efficiently,” Simmons said. “But it would take a significant influx to change the tide. This did not happen overnight and it is not going to get fixed overnight.”