The university is considering spending an extra $9 million per year to deal with its $400 million maintenance backlog.
The musings come after a report entitled Crumbling Foundations by the university’s facilities and services department cited several injuries and close calls due to buildings in disrepair.
In the fall of 2002, several people tripped and hurt themselves when elevators at the Edward Johnson and Banting buildings opened their doors without leveling with the floor properly.
In 2001, a man tripped over a poorly maintained joint in the floor of Sid Smith and broke his leg. Because of complications with the man’s diabetes, the injury became infected, and the leg had to be amputated. The university was taken to trial, and the injury was deemed to have contributed to the need to amputate the man’s leg.
Cathy Rigall, the report’s author, said in an interview that in addition to these problems, the asbestos issue wasn’t dealt with adequately in the past because of underfunding. Rigall is the assistant vice president for facilities and services.
“Over the years, things had gotten a little slack,” she said.
Asbestos removal is “now being given priority because the unions stood up and said ‘we’re not happy’ and forced it to the top of the priority list,” she said.
The university is considering increasing its spending on maintenance to one per cent of its operating budget. The total operating budget for the 2003-2004 year is $978 million,
but the money wouldn’t appear until next year. This year, the facilities and services department saw a 4.5 per cent funding cut along with most other departments.
In any case, the extra $9 million “would just help prevent further deterioration,” said Safwat Zaky, vice-provost of Planning and Budget, but would not be enough to start decreasing the backlog.
Whether the university will be able to go further, and start eating into the backlog depends on how much extra money the new provincial government will put up, according to Zaky.
“The whole backlog that needs to be done is an enormous amount of money,” said Zaky. “At this point, it’s totally speculative to say we’ll be able to do this or that.”
But ensuring health and safety on campus should be a university priority, says Howard Tam, the vice president of university relations for the Students’ Administrative Council (SAC).
Classrooms “shouldn’t be crumbling” while students are trying to learn in them, he says. “Deferred maintenance becomes an issue when it affects [students’] ability to study and learn. If $9 million doesn’t cover it, we would definitely want to ask the university to increase that figure.”
Zaky insists that student’s health and safety won’t be put at risk, whether extra money is available for maintenance or not.
“Anything we become aware of that is a threat to safety, we deal with that,” he said.