The lack of money to fix aging buildings, update classrooms and replace windows, elevators, plumbing and fire alarm systems poses a growing risk to Camosun College, students and school officials say.
The B.C. government’s own researchers estimate that the cost of deferred maintenance at Camosun tops $100 million.
“Within five years, that’s what it would cost to get us up to some kind of a reasonable level of current code,” said Peter Lockie, Camosun’s chief financial officer.
School officials, however, figure the actual cost is likely closer to $150 million once all associated expenses are included.
Lockie said the problems began accumulating about four years ago, when the government slashed the school’s maintenance budget by 75 per cent during the global economic meltdown.
“It’s a short-term economy and I can see why they did it, but it catches up with you,” he said.
Camosun receives some money each year to deal with urgent issues, but not enough to bring the school up to an acceptable standard, Lockie said.
He told a recent board of governors meeting that administrators now believe the maintenance cuts “are threatening the quality of our services essentially, and the quality of our environment for learning and teaching.”
Student society spokeswoman Madeline Keller- MacLeod agreed.
“That is a threat to the continued success of our students and our college,” she said.
Other colleges and universities in B.C. face similar challenges, said Camosun president Kathryn Laurin.
“We have literally crumbling facilities,” she said. “Some of my colleagues have flooding and so on — just because of the back-up of deferred maintenance.”
Laurin said the government needs to recognize that post-secondary schools help drive regional economic development. “Having appropriate facilities is really a part of that. You can’t teach if you don’t have the proper facilities.”
Advanced Education Minister Amrik Virk disputes that schools are crumbling, but agrees they are struggling to keep up with repairs.
“We acknowledge that there is deferred maintenance,” he said. “Right now the world’s in a precarious economic state, and this province has done very, very well. So when the funding becomes available it will be expended on a priority basis across British Columbia.”
Virk said the government gives top priority to maintenance issues that pose a risk to public safety.
“Right now, the budget margin is razor-thin,” he said.
“We’re absolutely committed to keeping the bottom line balanced. So within that we’re going to look all across the province and see where the priorities are.”
The government said Camosun will receive a total of $1.7 million this year toward routine capital.
Lockie and Ian Tol, Camosun’s director of facilities services, said some of the money will be used to fix the roof on the 33-year-old Fisher Building at the Lansdowne campus.
But even with the roof fixed, the government’s own figures show that the building requires more than $16 million in upgrades and repairs. Tol figures the real cost would be closer to $26 million.
The building, which houses the cafeteria, bookstore and classrooms, needs all new windows at a cost of $1.7 million alone. Last year, one of the windows fell out and dropped to the courtyard below. The college spent $7,000 to replace the rivets on all the windows.
“But you can see the original windows are just all corroded and it’s just time to replace them,” Tol said.