State of disrepair

Chico State gets below average grade on building, infrastructure maintenance

Students pass the Physical Sciences Greenhouse, one of several Chico State buildings slated for replacement.

Students pass the Physical Sciences Greenhouse, one of several Chico State buildings slated for replacement.

Photo by Evan Tuchinsky

About this story:
The authors are Chico State journalism students, two of whom work at the campus’ student newspaper, The Orion, where a similar version of this story was published.

Chico State is showing its age.

The second oldest campus in the California State University system has a $166 million backlog of maintenance needs—a problem that, according to a campus-wide inspection by Georgia-based consultant ISES Corp. last year, has the potential “to shut down the whole campus.”

“The average age of the Chico buildings was, I think, 48 years old. I mean, that’s pretty old for a campus,” said Tony Simpson, West Coast vice president of ISES, which assesses buildings and other infrastructure. “It’s at the point where a lot of this stuff needs replacement.”

That’s the culmination of years of deferred maintenance—when regular repairs and upgrades are delayed. As the backlog continues to build, the problems grow, as does the cost of replacement or repair.

“It’s like when you have leaves in your gutter,” campus architect Sandra Beck said. “If you clean out the leaves right after a storm, then it’s going to be easier, but if you wait too long, then those leaves are going to clog your gutters and become a lot harder to clean.”

Based on its analysis of 39 buildings, ISES deemed the campus as a whole to be in below average condition. Scores ranged from 0.00 (excellent) to greater than .60 (complete replacement indicated). Five buildings on campus ranked greater than .60: the Physical Science Greenhouse (.82), Modoc Hall (.79), Physical Science Headhouse (.75), Acker Gym (.62) and Glenn Hall (.61). Chico State collectively received a score of .43.

Interim Vice President for Business and Finance Jim Hyatt said the Physical Sciences Greenhouse will be replaced this summer, and there is a replacement plan for Glenn Hall, though it still lacks funding. Acker Gym and Modoc Hall, however, will stay as is unless plans to renovate classrooms are funded by the CSU Chancellor’s Office.

Ten buildings, including Butte and Plumas halls and Shurmer Gym, fall into the “poor” category, which indicates they need total renovation. And some of the most recognized buildings on campus, including Meriam Library, Kendall and Trinity halls, are considered in below-average condition. They require major renovations, according to ISES.

To address the backlog, the university would need to invest $13 million annually, Hyatt said. The university is currently committing $2.4 million to $2.6 million per year, according to Facilities Management Director Mike Guzzi.

Before the 2008 recession, Facilities Management’s budget was nearly $14 million per year, $6.4 million of which was devoted to maintenance needs. A year later, however, the department’s budget took a serious hit, dropping to just over $8 million, and has stayed stagnant ever since. Funding for maintenance dropped to between $1.7 million and $2.5 million during that time.

Meanwhile, maintenance needs swelled.

“All these numbers they keep talking about is the deferred maintenance backlog that only gets worse with time,” Guzzi said. “It may be $13 million to fix the problem this year, but because it’s continuing to decay, the next year it could cost $15 million. It’s an exponential issue.”

The same is true for Chico State’s underlying infrastructure, Guzzi said.

In an email sent to Hyatt on March 8, Beck—the campus architect—said the university’s electrical distribution network was a high priority. It is the means by which electricity is routed from building to building. Some of the components are more than 40 years old and in need of attention, Guzzi said.

The project could cost at least $21.6 million, according to Beck’s email.

“Infrastructure failure risks will become more expensive and catastrophic, affecting business continuity and service,” the ISES report states. “These failures have the potential to shut down the whole campus.”

The Chancellor’s Office has deemed only $27 million of the campus’ needs in critical enough condition for funding over the last three years, according to the office’s 2017 Capital Outlay List.

That includes $2.2 million to excavate the breezeway of Meriam Library and waterproof the basement. Heavy rains over the last two years have caused the water table to rise, and water has been seeping into its basement offices. The university also received $19 million for an upgrade to the boiler and chiller plant.

Mike Uhlenkamp, director of media relations at the Chancellor’s Office, said the CSU’s headquarters has a list that prioritizes deferred maintenance projects across the 23 CSU campuses. Right now, Chico State is ninth in line to receive funding—for a new Physical Sciences building that will cost $82 million and begin construction in 2020, according to Uhlenkamp.

He noted that the Chancellor’s Office has sought additional funding from the state Legislature for infrastructure and building projects. But after the recession, funding dwindled.

“Collectively, over a 15-year period, we had asked for $293 million. [The Legislature] provided $9.3 million,” Uhlenkamp said. “That just kind of illustrates how little funding was allocated for deferred maintenance from the state of California.”

And without regular state funding for these projects, Uhlenkamp said, the CSU will not be able to support all the needs of every campus. “Across the system, we have a $1.9 billion backlog in deferred maintenance,” he said.

University officials will learn after the November board of trustees meeting whether Chico State will receive additional funding.

In the meantime, like other CSUs, the campus is turning to fundraising to fill the gap.

For example, the new Physical Sciences building will cost $4 million more than anticipated, and Vice President of University Advancement Ahmad Boura said his department is asking donors to fund the remaining price tag. As of now, nothing has been raised. Advancement is also beginning to raise money for a replacement for Glenn Hall, an agricultural complex at the University Farm and renovations to other campus structures.

“Fundraising always provides part of the solution, [but] it’s never the solution,” Boura said.

Raising money for underground infrastructure projects, like the electrical distribution network, is a harder sell.

“These kinds of things, they’re not sexy projects,” Guzzi said. “Nobody gets their name on the utility distribution network.”

University President Gayle Hutchinson said funding facilities is high on her priority list for the upcoming year.

“It’s high, but it comes back to resources,” she said. “And I think as we look at it, we really have to consider how we phase these things in over time. We don’t have the money to cover [deferred maintenance], so we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to phase that in.”

“It sounds like everybody is aware of the problem. Everyone recognizes it,” Guzzi said. “Now we have to stop admiring the problem and do something about it.”