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New infrastructure plan should not reward campus building neglect

President Joe Biden will propose a new $2T plan which provides funds to upgrade community college infrastructure. While I agree in principle that community colleges must be ready to accept an influx of students, I am not comfortable with rewarding community college administrators’ pattern of chronic building neglect.

Not every community college is in the same position that WCC is. Washtenaw County taxpayers generously fund WCC. We’ve provided more than one-quarter billion dollars to WCC in the last five years. Of that quarter-billion, WCC has devoted a grand total of $5,050,000 to repair and maintenance. That’s less than 2%.

In 2017, WCC had a repair and maintenance budget of $1.75M. In 2018, that budget was reduced to $1.5M. By 2019, the repair and maintenance budget had been slashed in half to $750,000. In 2020, the repair and maintenance budget was $750,000, and this year, the budget has been more than halved to $300,000.

Cutting the maintenance budget is clearly a situation of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Decreasing the amount of money spent on regular maintenance commits the College to spending more money on addressing building neglect issues. To be clear, increasing the maintenance budget and performing necessary repairs in a timely way would eliminate the need to spend additional money on remediating building neglect. It would cost less overall to fix problems when they arise. The taxpayers would spend less to replace old, inefficient systems than to patch and repair existing ones.

Building neglect is resource mismanagement

The systematic reduction of the WCC maintenance budget over the last five years is nothing less than mismanagement. There are industry standards that determine how much a campus should spend per square foot on building maintenance every year. WCC used to follow these standards. If it were still doing so, the maintenance budget should be about $3M. Under the current administration, the maintenance budget has been regularly raided; WCC now spends $0.25/sq. ft on building maintenance.

When making funding decisions for community colleges, the State of Michigan deducts the cost of building neglect from capital projects. The Legislature has made it clear that community college administrations should fund properly fund maintenance out of their annual operating revenues.

Instead of using the money that Washtenaw County taxpayers generously provide to care for campus buildings, the current administration prefers to use operating funds to pay for bond debt. Building maintenance is an operating expense. Debt repayment is not. Sadly, the current administration is eager to take on even more debt to construct yet another building that it will not take care of. Why exactly should Washtenaw County taxpayers fund the construction of a building the campus does not need and the administration will not maintain?

More importantly, why aren’t our elected Trustees asking these questions?

Photo Credit: Horst Guttman , via Flickr