U of T has a $1.2 billion backlog of maintenance that it has put off, according to its 2023 Facilities & Services report on the issue.

Deferred maintenance refers to building infrastructure updates that an institution has postponed because it lacks funds. This backlog can mean more deterioration for equipment that students regularly use, resulting in some areas closing down due to risk factors. 

The Varsity broke down U of T’s 2023 deferred maintenance report, what it means for current students, and how deferred maintenance could affect future U of T students.

Is the university lacking funds for maintenance? 

From 2022 to 2023, U of T’s deferred maintenance increased by 23 per cent, from $961 million to $1.2 billion. The report attributed this increase to high inflation rates for materials needed in non-residential construction and the many aging buildings on the St. George campus. 

U of T has undertaken two massive stages of construction in recent history: one from 1958 to 1970 — when the university built such icons as Robarts Library, the Medical Sciences Building, and New College — and one from 2000 to 2005, when the university created the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building, and Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular & Biomolecular Research. The report reads that many of these structures “are approaching the end of their remaining useful life,” and that this is a trend the report “[expects] to continue.” 

How does this impact students?

Engineering or medical students may encounter issues with deferred maintenance. Since March 14 this year, Facilities and Services has released six service alerts related to asbestos work and ventilation shutdown in buildings such as Ramsay Wright Laboratories, the Dentistry Building, and the Medical Sciences Building. 

In 2017, environmental experts found that construction dust in two research labs contained asbestos fibres — a hazardous material commonly used in construction during the 1960s — after the university initiated a major renovation project as part of its Lab Innovation for Toronto project

While asbestos used as insulation doesn’t cause harm when it’s left undisturbed, the seal on the plastic enclosures contractors had used for asbestos removal during this construction period failed. This caused the labs to shut down, preventing grad students and researchers from doing their work. Ultimately, the university had to fire its long-time contractors hired for the project and took additional measures to prevent this from happening again.

The 2023 report states that three buildings are planned for development as part of Project Leap — a St. George campus initiative that aims to cut the campus’ emissions in half by 2027 and potentially address $30 million in deferred maintenance. This includes the redevelopments of 215 Huron Street, Site 1: The Gateway, and parts of the Medical Sciences Building, addressing $81 million worth of deferred maintenance, including demolition of parts of the buildings. 

What does this mean for future students?

U of T has expressed concerns about not having enough funds to invest in deferred maintenance projects. The deferred maintenance report states that, generally, it is advisable to invest 1.5 to three per cent each year of all buildings’ total current replacement value in renewing infrastructure. The university currently only invests 0.7 per cent of the total replacement value toward deferred maintenance — below the 1.5 per cent average for Ontario universities.

The Facility Condition Index — a cross-industry benchmark created by the province’s Facility Condition Assessment program that compares the cost of fixing a building’s deficiencies with the cost of completely replacing the building — for buildings on all three campuses increased from 1.8 per cent in 2022 to 18.2 per cent in 2023. If this trend continues, it may be more cost-effective to build new buildings than replace some of the old ones.