Maintaining a sprawling 180-year-old campus isn’t cheap. That’s why U of T is getting nearly $26 million to spruce itself up. The provincial government is doling out $200 million to Ontario colleges and universities this year for deferred maintenance.
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, the Ontario government announced it will give $200 million to Ontario universities and colleges, out of the $1.4 billon infrastructure fund established in its fall economic statement.
U of T’s president David Naylor says the money will go towards things like improving campus security, adding safety railings, and fixing leaky roofs. “Most of the funding here will go to things that are unobtrusive but that actually let us get on with doing work to make life better on campus that otherwise would be tough to fund.”
While the average age of a university building in Ontario is 30 years, centuryold buildings are not uncommon on U of T’s downtown campus. U of T is the largest recipient of funding, which was distributed based on space and utilization.
“The simple fact of the matter is that sometimes education is about bricks and mortar,” John Milloy, the minister of training, colleges and universities, said during a news conference at George Brown College. “In fact, for faculty and students to have an excellent learning experience, they need to work in facilities that are up-to-date, that are energy-efficient, and that are safe and secure.”
“It’s more than a shot in the arm,” said Council of Ontario Universities president Paul Genest. “It’s octane fuel for the university sector, so we’re just thrilled.”
Critics are less optimistic. Conservative legislator Jim Wilson called the sum a “drop in the bucket.”
“It’s one-time money and it won’t go very far,” said Wilson.
The figure is five times greater than last year’s maintenance allotment, but still short of the $1.6 billion Ontario’s auditor general Jim McCarter reports is needed to completely repair Ontario university facilities. As of January 2008, U of T had accrued a whopping $276 million in deferred maintenance costs, according to a report released for the Business Board Governing Council. Creakiness on St. George campus accounted for $254,630,484 of that figure, with UTM and UTSC ringing in at $9,549,644 and $12,297,061 respectively.
The funding comes in the wake of a $200M class action lawsuit against Ontario’s public community colleges for use of allegedly illegal ancillary fees in order to fund infrastructure maintenance.
“We have seen college and some university administrators increasing ancillary fees to fund core operational expenses, which is illegal,” said Jen Hassum, chairperson of the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Federation of Students. “The provincial government should ensure that the money is transferred with an understanding that universities and colleges should be reducing their reliance on ancillary fees for constructing or repairing campus buildings.”
The province announced it expected the funding to create 2,000 temporary jobs and help protect Ontario’s economy from a current downturn. “Our government’s investment will help local communities across Ontario immediately by stimulating construction and creating jobs,” said Milloy.
Ross Paul, vice-chair of the Council of Ontario Universities, hailed the funding as “a tremendous boost to the university sector.”
CFS expressed “tentative satisfaction” with the funding. “Students look forward to a subsequent announcement from the Ontario government to ensure that it spends the remaining $500 million that was promised to Ontario in both 2006 and 2007 federal budgets,” said Hassum.
MPP Jim Wilson, a PC education critic, called the funding “a drop in the bucket.”
“It’s one-time money and it won’t go very far,” he said.
Milloy hinted at possible additional funding. “This is an ongoing story. We’re going to continue to work with the sector to make sure that their needs are addressed.”
According to school’s the latest report on deferred maintenance, U of T has budgeted costs totaling $276 million across its three campuses. Robarts Library and the Medical Sciences buildings were in greatest need, with $31.7 million and $26.1 million, respectively, required for maintenance and upgrades.
The money will be stretched to cover a long list of necessary, if unspectacular, repairs, such as replacing leaky roofs, improving old sewage systems and safety railings, and upgrading electrical systems and elevators.
“This will help us address some essential things that just don’t figure high on the radar screen and are critical to improving campus life,” Naylor told the Globe and Mail.
Naylor gave an example to the CBC: “No one is going to get up and make a high-profile announcement about the diameter of the stack running into the sewer system, but you get that wrong and you’ve got a rather large problem.”
With files from Shabnam Olga Nasimi