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SFU campus is crumbling, fix required as high as $700 million

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DH Vancouver Staff Sep 03, 2013 7:05 am

Mould infestations, cracking foundations, exposed rebar, leaky roofs and pipes and even crumbling staircases. It’s not an ideal learning and working environment, but with no relief in sight this will be the reality that 34,000 students and staff will have to face for the foreseeable future at Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby Mountain campus.

According to a report by the SFU Graduate Student Society (GSS), 54 per cent of SFU’s buildings in Burnaby are deemed in “poor” condition while another 27 per cent are classified as in “fair” condition.

Some building spaces on campus have already been condemned, and buildings like the WAC Bennett Library have been deemed as structurally unsafe. At this rate, it is expected that in a few short years several entire buildings will need to be condemned for safety and health concerns.

Several staff have taken periods of sick leave in recent years over mould issues and other unsafe conditions, while others who remain refuse to teach and work in certain buildings and experience headaches and breathing conditions that do not go away.

Garbage cans sitting in the middle of hallways and classrooms to collect rainwater and leaky pipes are also a common experience during the winter, while exposed or rusted rebar found across campus is an indication that moisture is entering the building and in turn impacts the structural integrity of the building.

Over time, left unresolved and not repaired, such problems lead to further deterioration and causes collateral damage to exposed pipes, flooring and paint.

The less-than-ideal location of SFU’s main campus atop Burnaby Mountain has played a pivotal factor towards the unusually rapid state of deterioration of its facilities.

Sitting 358-metres above Burrard Inlet to the north, the campus buildings are often exposed to high moisture and rapid thermal cycle changes when blanketed by low cloud (or fog) cover. Given its elevation, the campus is also much more prone to ice build-up an snowfall, which accelerates the weathering process.

Major cuts in the annual budget for regular maintenance, repairs and upgrades have also greatly contributed to the deplorable state of the facilities. This has led to deferred maintenance, which refers to routine repairs and upkeep required to keep facilities operating normally that is postponed later than would be usually acceptable.

The provincial government provides regular funding to post-secondary institutions for facility maintenance through its Annual Capital Allowance (ACA). During the 2009/2009 academic year, SFU received $4.6 million through the ACA for maintenance. However, in 2009/2010, this was greatly reduced to just $501,031 and has forced SFU to make up the funding shortfall from its general operating budget or by deferring maintenance until funding becomes available.

In April 2011, the university published its five-year Capital Plan revealing it would require at least $20 million annually to make necessary maintenance and upgrades. The GSS believes the figure could be a highly conservative estimate, with the actual cost being $27 million per year just to maintain the existing status quo.

Varying reports also indicate that SFU Burnaby has urgent deferred maintenance needs, with estimates as high as $700 million by the Northwest Commission on Colleges & Universities. The estimated deferred maintenance needs total between 30 to 50 per cent of the replacement value of the buildings.

Bear in mind that these estimates do not include the cost of renewing campus infrastructure such as pothole covered roads, cracked and uneven sidewalks, and aging water, electrical and sewer works.

This year, as part of its 2013 budget, the provincial government allocated $2.2 million towards funding some of SFU Burnaby’s highest priority deferred maintenance projects. However, even as an interim solution solution, this is nowhere near enough.

The total replacement cost of the campus’ aging facilities, some as old as 48 years old and largely designed by the late Arthur Erickson, could stagger $1.8 billion.

SFU students and graduates are highly concerned of the impact of the continued deferred maintenance of campus buildings and infrastructure, despite record high tuition fees in recent years. SFU is British Columbia’s second largest and second most prestigious post-secondary institution.

Meanwhile at the other end of the Vancouver peninsula, the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey campus is currently a construction zone as it is undergoing its largest facility and infrastructure renewal and expansion in decades.

Do you attend classes or work at Simon Fraser University’s Burnaby Mountain campus? Let us know how serious building deterioration issues are by commenting below.

The following photos were collected by SFU Graduate Student Society’s “I [heart] SFU” campaign to increase awareness of the state of the campus facilities at Burnaby Mountain.

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DH Vancouver Staff
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