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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Building Upkeep on Hold as Budget Cuts Loom

Stony Brook University’s plan to become the flagship school of the SUNY system is in full swing. But the faculty and staff of the Earth and Space Sciences building can’t worry about that now—they need a new roof.

The ESS building, now over 40 years old, is beginning to show its age according to Professor Richard J. Reeder, Chair of the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University. The building has been in desperate need of maintenance and repair for sometime now. A 2002 Campus Capital Plan identified several academic buildings including Old Chemistry and Harriman Hall as being in critical condition.

Now with nearly $20 million in budget cuts and more cuts likely to come, the state of buildings like ESS is a cause for concern. Building upkeep in ESS has been a struggle with the aging building for obvious and not so obvious reasons.  The complexities of building upkeep in New York State have cost students and professors already and may foreshadow trouble for current projects.

“The public doesn’t see a boiler, in a mechanical room in the basement going bad or that it’s held together with coat hangers. And because of that when budgets get cut, the stuff that’s invisible, and not essential is frequently the stuff that gets removed and I think that’s contributed largely to why this building has gotten to the condition it’s in over the course of 42 years,” said Owen C. Evans, Director of Laboratories in the ESS building.

The result according to Reeder is the inconvenience that students and faculty are forced to deal with due to the condition of ESS along with a quality of space not conducive to the growth that one would like to see from an academic institution.

Evans recalls a time a few years ago when the roof was leaking and the maintenance crew had to come up with a quick fix. Using a tarp, they suspended it under the roof of the downstairs lecture hall in ESS so that all the water would collect in the middle of the tarp. Then using a hose the water would drain from the tarp, through the hose into a bucket in the corner of the room.

“We have needs that clearly go beyond the space that’s available for our research,” said Reeder. “Realistically we know we’re not going to get a new building but we are bursting at the seams and the quality, the experience that the students have is degrading when you come into a room when it’s cold outside and the heats not on for some reason.”

That 2002 assessment of ESS found the steps, entrances, and exterior roof among other things to be in poor condition. Evans does admit that incidents like the one with the tarp were embarrassing, especially when there would be public events. But assigning blame for this blight isn’t as obvious as one would imagine.

“If you asked me this ten years ago I probably would’ve been very critical of the campus administration and say, ‘they don’t do anything,” said. Evans. “I didn’t know. Most people don’t really understand that maintenance isn’t locally controlled, it’s just beyond the campus.”

What Evans is referring to is that the school gets a certain amount of money identified out of its total available dollars to spend to use on maintenance. This amount according to Evans is just a “drop in the bucket.” The truth is the campus isn’t expected to be able to pay for the major renovations and so the state has to approve these projects before anything can happen.

These expensive renovations can be a hard sell to money strapped governments especially since the economic downturn. Even getting something done through the bureaucracy of the legislature and the Governors office can take years. The result is a master list of critical projects identified across all 64 of the SUNY campuses all waiting in line for their renovations.

For instance, that 2002 Campus Capital Plan identified the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in ESS as being in poor condition and a critical need. The new system was installed several years after the initial assessment at a cost of over $ 3 million.

Recently the state has prepared the implementation of a $6.3 billion plan for SUNY’s educational facilities in hopes “to address the accumulated backlog of critical maintenance projects throughout the University system,” according to the New York State division of the Budget.

“The fact that it takes so long isn’t because they [Stony Brook University] don’t want to do it,” said Reeder. “They just don’t have the money.”

Out of local control, building managers have to go to the state to try and cut whatever deal they can to get these projects funded. With the budget cuts it is likely that providing the upkeep for these buildings will only become more difficult.

“The recent downturn in the economy has directly impacted our ability to maintain buildings,” said Terence Harrigan, executive director of facilities and services at Stony Brook University. Harrigan’s department deals with day to day building up keep in Stony Brook’s academic buildings. “Budgets are tight and are getting tighter. We anticipate some services will be impacted and dramatically curtailed in order for us to meet our budgets.”

This means even buildings like the Student Activities Center or SAC, and the Student Union, which enjoy special attention because of their heavy foot traffic, may have to start doing more with less when it comes to making repairs.

This is due to the fact that the SAC has a privately contracted staff of custodial workers and is one of the buildings that serve as a focal point for the university with some railings being painted constantly over and over again just to keep the building looking in good condition, according to Howard Gunston, director of facilities operations for the SAC and the Stony Brook Union.

“People talk about how every night Disney World is painted because every day is someone’s first day in Walt Disney World,” said Gunston. “So how do you do that on a state budget?”

The famous amusement park may not actually be painted this often but Gunston’s point is that his staff is going to have to do more with less.

The opinion remains however that with tuition hikes and buildings going up all over campus why do buildings like ESS struggle to find the funding to make improvements. According to Reeder it’s the color of the money that people don’t appreciate.

Nothing about this is unique to the ESS building or to Stony Brook’s campus. These same problems exist in other buildings at Stony Brook and across the SUNY system that waits patiently in line for there much needed repairs. Public university systems like the one in Pennsylvania deal with these matters differently. Pennsylvania State University handles its renovation decisions locally on campus avoiding the state legislature all together, in turn getting things done much quicker.

Things are looking up for the ESS building however. Projects are in the works to replace the roof, seal the outside walls and to redo the grounds surrounding the building. Some remain skeptical though.

“I’m not exhaling very hard because I think the plug can get pulled out on these things any moment,” said Evans.

If these projects are completed though, the hope is that a better kept building will create a more positive work environment for teachers and students.

“It is our belief that our campus is judged daily by visitors and potential students,” said Harrigan. “If the campus work environment is well maintained and pleasant to be in, the campus becomes a place that people want to spend there time and talents in.”


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