Canada in costly state of disrepair

December 21, 2001

Canada's 90 universities need C$3.6 billion (£1.6 billion) of repairs, according to a government report.

The problem of condemned buildings, leaking roofs and fallen tiles has become so bad that safety on campuses is at risk, according to the report tabled by the Standing Senate Committee on National Finance.

The report says that the average Canadian university building is 32 years old, while the average life of the components of most modern buildings is 23 years.

It says the state of disrepair reduces the ability of institutions to attract top faculty and students.

The report, based mostly on a survey of 59 universities conducted last year by the Canadian Association of University Business Officers, says infrastructure improvements have not been made, mainly because of austerity measures during the past decade, when rising expenditures outpaced new government revenue.

The report saves some of its criticism for universities. "While all institutions faced difficult budget constraints in the early 1990s, the universities chose, in part, to deal with these fiscal challenges by allowing their physical plant to deteriorate. The committee questions whether enough was done to find savings in other areas."

The report acknowledges the difficulty of raising money for infrastructure, noting that most donors would rather give toward a new building than to help repair old ones. Borrowing for the repairs has also become difficult, since maintenance has no revenue with which to service the debt.

The report calls for the federal and provincial governments to pick up 40 per cent each of the costs.

Finance minister Paul Martin set up a new infrastructure foundation but it is expected to be targeted to more general repair projects such as sewer systems and highways.

McGill University needs another C$175 million on top of the C$40 million it received last year from Quebec.

While the provincial governments have been the biggest contributors to recent repairs, the money falls short of what is needed, according to Chuck Adler, McGill's planning office director.

He said that the university, with dozens of historical buildings, required specialised work, such as masonry remade in 19th-century styles.

Student groups are calling for government intervention. They are worried that repairs might eventually be paid for with rises in tuition fees.

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