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Louisiana's college campuses crumbling

Left: La. Tech President Les Guice points to a decades-old cooling system that the school has kept limping along. Right: Grambling State President Rick Gallow points to mold or mildew on the ceiling of the school's library. (Photo: Greg Hilburn)

Louisiana's college campuses are crumbling under the weight of $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance.

"Our facilities are disintegrating from the inside out," said University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson. "It's a huge issue for us."

Leaky roofs, mold- and mildew-stained ceilings, threadbare carpet, pipes propped up by two-by-fours and parking lot potholes deep enough to rattle the shocks of a Humvee can be found from Louisiana Tech University to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, from Northwestern State to LSU-Shreveport and from the University of Louisiana at Monroe to Central Louisiana Technical Community College.

Perhaps the most glaring example can be found at Grambling State, where President Rick Gallo said the university will be forced to abandon its dilapidated A.C. Lewis Memorial Library this spring and create an abridged version on a single floor of Charles P. Adams Hall.

"Can you imagine a university without a library?" said Gallo, who said he will ask the state to build a new one.

Leaders of Louisiana's public colleges and universities have been so focused on surviving eight years of operational cuts the growing problem of deferred maintenance for facilities has taken a backseat.

"When you're worried about keeping the doors open you can sometimes overlook a roof that sprung a leak," said Henderson, calling on-campus facilities directors "unsung heroes" who have kept the campuses limping along.

But last week when Gov. John Bel Edwards' Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne presented next year's proposed state budget he included a system-by-system, campus-by-campus list of deferred maintenance needs that he said shouldn't be ignored any longer.

"If you have a hole in the roof and don't have the money to patch it the problem eventually grows into something much more serious and costly," Dardenne said after the meeting.

The LSU System alone has more than $1 billion in deferred maintenance needs, including $718 million at its Baton Rouge campus, while the University of Louisiana System has a $364 million backlog, the Southern University System has a $184 million backlog and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System has $150 million in unmet maintenance.

"These are the kind of things that happen when you go through a dramatic shift in funding to higher education," said Louisiana Community and Technical College President Monty Sullivan. "Each year that we're unable to address facility needs the problems accumulate and worsen until at some point they can't be repaired."

The impact is exacerbated because the state has less capacity in its Capital Outlay, or construction, budget. That means there are fewer opportunities to build new facilities if the existing ones become uninhabitable.

"What we really need is a steady, consistent investment so we can plan to make these repairs rather than deal with something when it fails," Tech President Les Guice said.

But all agree that seems unlikely in the near future as the state faces another budget shortfall next year.

In the meantime, the consequences grow.

"Things continue to pile up and eventually you have to abandon a building," Henderson said. "We're past the Band-Aid stage."

University of Louisiana System

Grambling State: $48.9 million

Louisiana Tech: $41.3 million

McNeese State: $26.7 million

Nicholls State: $39.1 million

Northwestern State: $30.5 million

Southeastern Louisiana: $48.1 million

University of Louisiana at Lafayette: $44 million

University of Louisiana at Monroe: $46.8 million

University of New Orleans: $39 million

System total: $364 million

LSU System

LSU: $718 million

LSU AgCenter: 14.1 million

LSU Health Sciences Center-New Orleans: $249 million

LSU Health Sciences Center-Shreveport: $55.7 million

LSU-Alexandria: $6.4 million

LSU-Eunice: $13.2 million

LSU-Shreveport: $2.3 million

LSU Pennington: $5.7 million

LSU Health Care Services Division: $3.2 million

Total for system: $1.06 billion

Southern University System

Southern: $156 million

Southern-New Orleans: $16.2 million

Southern-Shreveport: $11.2 million

System total: $184 million

Louisiana Community and Technical College System

Baton Rouge Community College: $5.3 million

Central Louisiana Technical Community College: $10.2 million

Delgado: $54.1 million

Fletcher Technical Community College: $8.7 million

Louisiana Delta Community College: $10.3 million

Northshore Technical Community College: $3.6 million

Nunez: $1.9 million

Northwest Louisiana Technical College: $14 million

South Central Louisiana Technical College: $7.5 million

South Louisiana Community College: $20.2 million

SOWELA: $14.2 million

System total: $150 million

Source: state of Louisiana