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Neglected maintenance does not really save money

The University of North Carolina has a housing problem for the fall semester. The wait list for on-campus housing has increased by more than 40% compared to last year. In real numbers, 600 UNC students want campus housing that simply isn’t available right now. Those who do have housing will see their costs increase by 5%. According to Carolina Housing, which operates the UNC housing facilities, the increases can be traced back to the cost of neglected maintenance.

In real numbers, the cost of on-campus housing will rise between $360 and $510 per year to pay for neglected maintenance. There is literally no reason for this to have happened. UNC (and every other university) should build the cost of building maintenance into the cost of the annual housing contract.

Neglected maintenance increases the cost of a housing contract at the same time it decreases the utility of the unmaintained building. Students in future years pay even more for even less. Eventually – like a Jack-in-the-Box – the cost explodes for an unlucky few.

That’s why financial stunts like holding the cost of tuition constant when costs rise do not do current students any favors and set the trap for future students. Imagine that strategy applied not only to the residential halls but also to every single building on campus. The direct and indirect costs to the students quickly become overwhelming.

That’s another reason why neglected maintenance should never happen. Maintenance costs are at their lowest the moment they arise. Waiting to address them simply increases the cost. Every single instance of neglected maintenance commits students (present and future) to paying more for less.

Neglected maintenance should be eliminated

It’s asinine to shrink the maintenance budget to near-zero levels in order to pour millions of dollars into a “Deferred Maintenance” account. The goal should always be to eliminate neglected maintenance. Addressing maintenance issues on schedule does just that and for the lowest possible cost. You won’t get there by spending a quarter per square foot on taking care of maintenance needs immediately.

Institutions understand that permanently neglecting maintenance commits it to replacement rather than repair or rehabilitation. Replacement is the worst, most expensive possible outcome for neglected maintenance. Institutions fail to realize the full potential of a building that it has literally neglected to death.

On WCC’s campus, the cost of the Morris Lawrence Building renovation, which had been delayed for nearly a decade, increased by $10.5 million dollars. The cost of the project literally quadrupled, largely from simply waiting to do the work. The taxpayers paid $13.5M for a renovation that had originally been identified as costing $3M.

What else could that $10.5M have done for the taxpayers of Washtenaw County?

Photo Credit: Kevin O’Mara, via Flickr