Report says Missouri's colleges and universities facing deteriorating buildings due to budget shortfalls

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. As state lawmakers head back to Jefferson City in January to begin a four-month session, they'll be looking at a report by the Missouri Department of Higher Education that paints a dire picture of funding for colleges and universities around the state.

The report says that nearly $1.5 billion is needed for repair and demolition projects at Missouri institutions, pointing out everything from leaky roofs to outdated and unusable buildings.

The report goes through every publicly-funded college and university in the state, both two-and-four year schools, with varying degrees of needs.

The just-issued report says that the recent downturn in state monetary support has increased the severity of deferred maintenance for colleges and universities and resulted in unstable funding for capital improvements.

The largest school in our area, Missouri State, has had over $88 million appropriated for capital improvements since 2010. But 70% of that, $61 million, ended up being held back. And new facilities like the Glass Hall expansion were done with the help of fundraising and private donations.

When it comes to maintaining its facilities, the report says that over 83% of MSU's buildings have not had any major renovation in 15 years. And currently the university has over $484 million in facility needs including over $100 million in maintenance that's been deferred because the budget just won't allow for it.

"So you have a budget of approximately $2 million of maintenance and repair that you're trying to tackle a $105 million problem with," explained Matt Morris, MSU's Vice-President for Administrative Services.
So how do they handle all those needs? The answer is prioritizing.

"Our first item is life safety items," Morris said. "Safety is extremely important. Then we move to structural items, roofs and structures. Then we get to mechanical systems, electrical and plumbing. And finally we replace carpet, paint, that sort of thing."

As far as capital improvements, MSU's number one priority is to get matching state funds for the $3.2 million already raised by private donations to renovate and add-on to the Greenwood Lab School, the K-12 prep facility on campus that serves 370 students.

"The parents at Greenwood have moved extremely hard to raise funding," Morris said. "We then put in an application process to the state asking if they would match that."

The other capital priorities include a $52 million science center and library in West Plains, $32 million in renovations of Cheek Hall, the computer and math building on the Springfield campus, and $25 million to renovate McDonald Hall, the 1940-era sports arena in Springfield that would be converted into multiple classrooms.

Morris though says he's not so confident about the other capital priorities getting passed because they don't have matching-funds coming from other sources.

"Because of the price tag being higher and the match not being in place, my prediction of how those fundings will come about is not as strong as Greenwood would be," he said.

But Morris did admit to being more confident about the current state of cooperation between educators and legislators in Jeff City as new governor Mike Parson has made education one of his top priorities while previous governor Eric Greitens wanted to drastically cut higher education funding.

"It' seems like we are part of the conversation and we are pleased with that," Morris said. "We also heard the governor loud and clear that workforce development is a priority. So that's why I would tell you that not only is the focus on the facility maintenance aspect of the buildings but also program needs so there have been proposals submitted for a nursing expansion and working with our friends at Ozarks Technical College and such. So we think there are good things to come and we're excited for the opportunity to be a part of the conversation."