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Billions Are Needed To Repair, Renovate And Maintain Cal State’s Buildings

Two buildings both is Spanish mission style area separated by a walkway.
A new report lists San Jose State as one of the CSU campuses needing the most renovations and repairs.
(Smita Patel
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Billions of dollars are needed to fully repair, maintain and renovate academic buildings and facilities across the 23 campuses in the California State University system, according to a legislative report.

  • This story was originally published by EdSource.

But that is money that the system, and the state, don’t have readily available. Meanwhile, some students have complained about unbearable heat waves in classrooms without air conditioning and canceled classes due to flooded buildings.

What we know about needed repairs

A Legislative Analyst Office report published last month warned that capital renewal in the CSU, such as replacing roofs and heating systems and updating air conditioning systems, would require $3.1 billion over the next 10 years. That’s in addition to a $6.5 billion backlog of regular maintenance left undone that has continued to grow.

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The report also highlighted an even larger need in the University of California system, where it projected $12 billion will be required over the next 10 years and that the 10-campus system had a $7.3 billion backlog. 

The LAO said neither the university systems nor the Legislature had a plan in place to address growing capital needs.

“Some campuses designate little, if any, ongoing funding from their base budgets for capital renewal, instead relying heavily on one-time state funding to address backlogs. State funding has been episodic, with large amounts provided in some years and none in other years,” according to the LAO report.

Protests over conditions

Last summer, when temperatures escalated over 100 degrees outdoors, students at Cal State Long Beach protested the outdated buildings without AC on their campus. They complained that sitting in 90-degree classrooms was unbearable and affected their learning.

Trent Murphy, a senior at Stanislaus State and member of the Cal State Student Association, said he’s heard of similar problems across the CSU.

In another example of poor facilities, Murphy said students at CSU San Bernardino saw classes canceled as buildings were damaged by flooding caused by heavy rains last September.

“It wasn’t the first time they had been flooded out like that,” Murphy said. “It’s something that really affected students’ learning outcomes.”

“Capital renewal is taken for granted by a lot of people because it’s not as flashy as something like basic needs or funding for staff,” Murphy said. Without improving or maintaining academic buildings, it’s difficult to see CSU reach its goals to sharply improve graduation rates by 2025, he added.

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A $50 million ask

The CSU system has requested $50 million in ongoing funds from the legislature this year that would be used to issue debt through CSU revenue bonds for deferred maintenance.

“It’s a challenge that it’s a growing need, and with the limited funds, we have prioritized asking for funds for deferred maintenance,” said Elvyra San Juan, assistant vice chancellor of capital planning, design and construction for the system. “It’s a long-term problem and one we haven’t solved yet.”

The LAO report highlighted the CSU campuses that required the most money to replace building components that are at the end of their useful life. Those included San Jose State, Long Beach, CSU Northridge, CSU Fullerton, and San Diego State. The CSU campuses with the worst facilities, based on their backlog of items that require maintenance, are CSU East Bay, San Francisco State, San Jose, Cal Poly Humboldt, and CSU Bakersfield, according to the report.

“In the CSU, we build 50-year buildings, which is a good standard,” said Scott Apel, chief financial officer on the Long Beach campus. “But at our age, almost 50% of our building stock is over the lifespans of the building.”

Long Beach, which has 135 buildings, is one of the older campuses in the CSU system and has been around since the late 1940s, Apel said. It has about $320 million in deferred maintenance needs.

“The environment you learn in does have some impact on your success,” Apel said. “So we want our buildings to be new, and we want them to be state of the art, and we want them to be a great place for our students. We’re a state institution, and these are state buildings, but the state hasn’t adequately funded renewal and hasn’t adequately funded maintenance, and so it causes trouble.”

Meanwhile, across the state, officials are contending with a rapidly changing environment due to climate change which is affecting building needs.

For example, deferring maintenance for some campuses coincided with increasing number of wildfires and intense rainfall. “It does change the campus priorities,” San Juan said. Some campuses had to shift resources from maintenance in some areas to wildfire prevention.

The lack of air conditioning on the Long Beach campus became a relatively recent concern because of record-high temperatures, Apel said.

Rising construction costs

Campuses are also contending with the rising cost of construction costs — up 19% in the past two years, Apel said.

Student housing or campus parking structures can generate their own revenue through room and board expenses or fees. But most academic buildings cannot.

Apel said he understands that it’s difficult to spend money on facilities when campuses need to invest more in faculty, support staff and students. “The people part tends to take precedence, which it should,” he said. “It’s hard to explain why a roof is such an important thing except for when the people who live and work in that building have a leaky roof.”

The LAO recommended the Legislature develop a plan for both UC and CSU, including creating a funding target and sharing the cost between the university systems and the Legislature. It also recommended the Legislature require UC and CSU to find funding from other sources, such as donations, for future costs and create a plan to reduce their existing backlogs. They also proposed that the university systems rely on more online learning to offset building use.

Meanwhile, a bill from Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) would take the issue to the voters in 2024. SB 28 would ask voters to provide $15.5 billion to construct and modernize preschool, K-12, community college and university facilities.

“Without the infrastructure, the buildings, the four walls that surround students while they’re learning, they can’t attain an education in an effective way,” Murphy said. “I just don’t think that should be taken for granted.”

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