Our ever-growing financial sinkhole: the stress of deferred maintenance

Amid the dire budget crisis Guilford College faces, one essential part of the College’s survival depends on how it handles its massive deferred maintenance.

When something structural or mechanical needs to be replaced and is not, it is listed under deferred maintenance.

When putting off car repair year after year, one’s car will eventually endure considerable wear and tear. The College is no different. As buildings on campus age, they need more repairs.

Deferred maintenance ranges from replacing light bulbs to fixing sewage pipes, air conditioning units, roofs and everything in between.

Vice President for Administration Jonathan Varnell works nearly 60 hours a week trying to keep up with the many projects on campus in order to address deferred maintenance issues.

His department has lost almost $1.2 million in funding over the past four years.

According to Varnell, about $16.8 million in maintenance is needed, while the College only has $1.4 million a year to spend.

And that’s not the only problem.

“We have lost manpower, laying off almost 15 positions over the years, and the employees we do have work more than anyone else out there,” Varnell said.

Facilities Condition Index is a term most institutions use to determine how far behind they are in deferred maintenance.

Currently, Guilford’s FCI is 9.7 percent.

According to Varnell, a FCI higher than 5 percent is bad and nearing 10 percent places an institution in a “poor” category.

Guilford invests $1.4 million annually into Facilities, yet the industry standard is $2.1 to $3.4 million.

Mary Hobbs, Binford, Dana and Milner Hall have the worst FCI percentages. Some of the buildings are in such bad condition, it is imperative Facilities begins work in them. Making sure there are sprinklers, getting rid of rampant mold, fixing leaking roofs and outdated heating and air conditioning units are among some of the halls’ more imminent tasks.

“I don’t want to say that those buildings have become a health and safety concern, but they have,” Varnell said.

Junior Cecelia Baltich-Schecter, who has lived in Milner, Bryan and Mary Hobbs, said maintenance has been spotty at best.

“There was a little bit of mold in (Mary) Hobbs, but nothing like it was in Bryan,” said Baltich-Schecter.

“There was so much mold on everything in my room in Bryan. It was really disgusting.”

In terms of possible solutions, Varnell said all depends upon increasing enrollment and endowment, which would take pressure off the operating budget and allow the College to make proper investments in its employees and physical infrastructure.

Trustee and Chair of the Building and Grounds Committee Pete Cross told The Guilfordian these issues are not Guilford-specific.

“Deferred maintenance is a critical subject to Guilford and all colleges because our facilities and infrastructure are so important and because those budget priorities compromise equally important items, such as the desire to raise faculty and staff compensation,” Cross said. “My reading suggests that virtually every college and university in America is lagging behind in deferred maintenance.”

According to Cross and Varnell, a report will reassess Guilford’s FCI in the next few months.

“These numbers (FCI percentages) are a moving target and could end up being higher or lower than where we currently stand,” Varnell said.