Deferred Maintenance

Deferred Maintenance Campaign in the Media

October 31st 2013
Crumbling Campus - SFUOnTheHill

Sunday August 30th 2013
The Tyee

Saturday August 31st 2013
Global News
CBC News

Monday September 1st 2013
The Huffington Post
MSN news

Tuesday September 3rd 2013
The Vancouver Sun
Vancouver Star

Wednesday September 4th 2013
Fairchild TV

Thursday September 5th 2013
The Burnaby News Leader


Introduction to SFU

Simon Fraser University is a research University with three campuses in the Lower Mainland. SFU opened its doors in 1965 and has grown to be BCʼs second largest university and was Canadaʼs top ranked comprehensive university in Mcleanʼs magazine in 2011. Currently, there are over 100 undergraduate major and joint programs, and 45 graduate offerings. Over 30,000 students attend SFU every year, and have contributed to an impressive list of alumni, including four BC Premiers; many MLAs, MPs, and BC Mayors; Canadian icon, Terry Fox; notable artists; Olympic athletes; and world-renowned researchers. SFU was also recently honoured with the Prix du XXe siècle from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada for the nationally significant architecture on the Burnaby Campus, designed by Arthur Erickson. It is the only time that a university in Canada has received the award.

The Student Societies of SFU

There are two separate student societies at SFU: The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) and the Graduate Student Society (GSS). Previously, all students were represented by the SFSS; however, in 2007, undergraduate and graduate students voted in a referendum to see graduate students secede from the SFSS and form an independent graduate student society. In 2008, the GSS officially opened its doors. Both the SFSS and the GSS are member-driven, non-profit organizations and together they represent all students at SFU. It is important to note that both societies are independently recognized organizations and are distinct from the
SFU administration. The student societies - jointly and separately - provide a number of services to SFU students including extended health and dental plans, grants and funding, advocacy, and more. This proposal regarding deferred maintenance is supported by both the SFSS and the GSS and represents a strong concern from SFU students regarding maintenance issues at our university and in the province of BC more widely.

Introduction to Deferred Maintenance

Deferred maintenance refers to the routine repairs and upkeep required to keep buildings operating normally that have been postponed later than would be usually acceptable. The deferral can occur for many reasons, but most often it is due to financial limitations. If maintenance is deferred for too long, a building will deteriorate so extensively that it becomes more cost-effective to rebuild than to repair. Buildings where maintenance has been deferred usually do not last as long as buildings that are properly maintained during their lifespans. Deferred maintenance has become a serious problem for many post-secondary institutions, as well as hospitals, elementary and secondary schools, and government buildings, in British Columbia and across Canada. Funding guidelines suggest that an investment of between 1.5% and 3.0% of the replacement value of a building should be made to properly maintain it and to avoid a deferred maintenance problem. This is based on the idea that most buildings are designed and built to last a minimum of about 50 years on average.

Deferred Maintenance at SFU

At SFU, deferred maintenance has become a major concern. In April of 2011, SFU published a 5-Year Capital Plan, in which addressing deferred maintenance was listed as a priority. The plan indicated that 54% of SFUʼs buildings in Burnaby are classified as being in “poor” condition, with another 27% in “fair”
condition.1 More specifically, the WAC Bennett Library is considered seismically unsafe,2 and the Louis Riel Residence will soon be demolished unless major repairs are undertaken;3 in fact, several individual rooms in Louis Riel have already been condemned while graduate students and their families continue to
live in the building. The Capital Plan estimates that $20 million would be needed yearly to maintain these buildings and to make necessary upgrades.4 This could actually be a conservative estimate given that the total estimated replacement cost of the buildings at SFU Burnaby is approximately $1.8 billion. Using
even the lowest funding guideline of 1.5% of the replacement value, this would mean that SFU Burnaby would require $27 million yearly, simply to maintain the status quo. The Chief Facilities Officer of SFU Burnaby has indicated that SFU Burnaby currently has urgent deferred maintenance needs for the academic buildings alone totally approximately $160 million. The Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)* self-report estimates that there is over $700 million
in deferred maintenance needs for all SFU buildings in Burnaby.5 Note that none of these estimates include site services and infrastructure expenses such as repairs to roads, sidewalks, water, sewer, and electrical services outside of buildings. Currently these are estimated as having deferred maintenance needs totaling 30% to 50% of the replacement value of the buildings. Including these expenses would therefore substantially increase SFUʼs total deferred maintenance need.
The Provincial government provides annual funding, called the Annual Capital Allowance (ACA), to postsecondaries specifically for maintenance. In 2008/09, the ACA for SFU was $4.6 million; however, in 2010, this was reduced to only $501,031.6 As a result, SFU has been forced to make up the funding shortfall from the general operating budget or by deferring maintenance until funding becomes available. Given reductions to the operating budget and the tuition freeze, deferring maintenance has been the most tenable option for SFU in the past several years.
In 2009, the Federal government issued grants totaling $2 billion for deferred maintenance projects at post-secondary institutions across Canada, most of which were matched by the Provinces and individual institutions; the Government estimated another $3 billion would be needed to address the remaining
proposed projects.7 This is equivalent to the total amount of money transferred from the Federal government to the Provinces for post-secondary education in 2009.8 In the same year, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) estimated the total cost of deferred maintenance to be much
higher at $6.84 billion, with $2.4 billion considered urgent.9
In the 2012 BC Provincial Budget, $1.1 billion over three years was committed to addressing deferred maintenance in public buildings across the province.10 Additionally, $1.9 billion was allocated in the 2013 Provincial Budget for deferred maintenance and to ensure the longevity of the Provinceʼs assets.11 A total
of $2.2 million of this funding has been targeted specifically for deferred maintenance projects at SFU. Although this is a substantial and welcome injection of funding, it remains unknown how much of this funding will be directly designated for the serious maintenance issues at SFU and how much will be put
towards other projects, including new building on campus. It is also unclear what, if any, stipulations will be attached to this funding when it is dispersed. At the same time, the University is facing additional cuts to its operating budget, casting further uncertainty onto how SFU will ever be able to achieve the $27
million per year required to protect the approximately $1.8 billion investment in public infrastructure that our Burnaby campus represents. This is especially concerning that Burnaby is only one of SFUʼs three campuses. The students of SFU are dedicated to finding a solution so that our university can continue to
contribute to BCʼs vibrant economy well into the future.

* NWCCU is an American accreditation organization which SFU has recently joined.

I ♥ SFU Contest

In 2010/2011, the GSS asked SFU community members to submit photos of the noticeable effects that years of deferred maintenance have had on SFUʼs building. We received over 200 submissions covering everything from cracked tiles and duct-tape fixes, to mould and leaks. We hosted these photos on a website for several months and awarded prizes for the hard work and creativity of those who submitted photos. Now, we are sharing these photos with the wider community to try and bring attention to this issue so that it might be addressed by those in positions of power regarding funding for post-secondary institutions.

The Effects of Deferred Maintenance

(in order of least to most concern for SFU students)

Gives a poor impression to new comers and visitors

It is impossible for newcomers or visitors to avoid noticing the signs of neglect at SFU. New
students, especially those in expensive programs or international and non-BC students, may question their decision to attend this university; and they may come to resent their high fees and question whether the university is managing its money appropriately. Investors, prospective faculty or administrators, and other high profile visitors may be discouraged by the run-down appearance of the campus, and current faculty and staff may be lured away by
other post-secondaries that offer a more comfortable, welcoming, and safe environment.

Broken Window Theory

The Broken Window Theory essentially posits that visible signs of neglect cause individuals in the environment to care less about it and thus engage in further vandalism or more serious crimes as a consequence. While this theory is not uncontested, it is reasonable to assume that community members will show less regard for a campus that is already neglected than they would for one that was clean and well-maintained.

Disrupts learning and research

All members of the SFU community are affected by neglected maintenance issues, whether it is because they must find buckets for leaks, jerry rig a cover for a broken fan, move their classroom, or, more drastically, take sick-leaves due to unhealthy work environments. In addition, custodial staff must spend time addressing maintenance-related problems, such as collecting buckets full of water. All of this adds up to lost time and money, and a disruption to the main focus of the university: learning and research.

Can be early warning signs of a deteriorating building

A visible leak or developing stalactite means that water is entering the building through holes or cracks. Overtime, the water will undermine the integrity of the building and cause collateral damage, such as ruining exposed pipes, flooring, or paint. Exposed and rusted rebar also means that moisture is entering the building. Rebar is used to give more strength to concrete; if it starts to fail, the strength of the concrete is greatly reduced. As the rebar becomes exposed, it accelerates the deterioration of sections still concealed within the concrete, leading, eventually, to building collapse.

Campus becomes unusable

In some circumstances, deferring an issue means that access to an office, room in residence, stairwell, or walkway is prohibited. This may be tolerable under normal circumstances, but when funding never becomes available, these closed spaces never reopen and section by section, the campus closes. The university has predicted that it can expect the closure of more spaces and eventually the closure of entire buildings. With so many buildings erected around the same time, SFU risks losing all of these buildings at roughly the same time. In addition, physical damage, such as uneven stairs, closed walkways, or large cracks, can
make the campus very difficult to navigate for people with physical limitations or mobility devices, making our campus unwelcoming and opening us to liability under human rights legislation.

University is liable

Crumbling stairs, mould, broken fences, and asbestos are all potentially hazardous to the health and well-being of members of SFUʼs community and visitors. If anyone were to hurt themselves or become seriously ill because of the state of the campus, SFU could face a serious financial burden through litigations or WorkSafe BC claims. Already such issues are becoming apparent in our community, as with many faculty who have taken sick-leave.

Steps to Addressing Deferred Maintenance

While the long term goal is adequate, guaranteed funding for deferred maintenance, there are many other steps that can be taken to address deferred maintenance which will not impact the governmentʼs balanced budget in the short term.

Publicly express support for addressing deferred maintenance issues at postsecondary institutions in BC.

Deferred maintenance has grown to be such a significant problem at post-secondary institutions because it is largely an invisible issue for a majority of the provinceʼs population. There are certainly more dramatic and exciting initiatives than fixing cracks in the walls of a research laboratory and ensuring that the walls of lecture halls are free of mould, yet these projects are just as important and have potentially longer-lasting impacts. The issue of deferred maintenance needs visibility and champions. Support this issue in Caucus and raise it as a priority (current and future) on the legislative floor!

Provide immediate short term funding to address the most severe and urgent deferred maintenance issues at SFU.

Many maintenance issues at SFU already threaten the safety and well-being of our community members, others will significantly impact operations in the near future if they go unaddressed. One-time grants to address these issues would allow the university to continue operating at its full capacity and ensure that SFU remains a safe place to work and study. Ideally maintenance is addressed before it becomes a public health issue. In some cases at SFU, it is already too late for this. In others, a window of opportunity remains.

Restore SFUʼs ACA funding levels to pre-2008 levels.

While still insufficient to adequately address all the deferred maintenance at SFU, funding levels prior to 2008/09 were almost ten-times higher than they are today. Restoring previous funding levels would allow the university to address urgent issues and reduce the continued diversion of money from academic and research initiatives (ie, the universityʼs core mandate, for which we receive provincial funding) to routine maintenance.

Create a plan to restore all SFUʼs buildings to “good” condition or better.

Without a significant investment of resources, SFUʼs buildings will continue to deteriorate and crumble until they all must be rebuilt at a huge cost to the public. Since many of SFUʼs buildings were constructed in a very short time period, many of them could critically deteriorate at the same time. Replacing these buildings would cost almost $2 billion, putting the university in an untenable financial situation.12 A realistic plan to avoid this scenario must be created. Additionally, when funding is provided for new buildings, it must be accompanied by long term plans for the funding of their maintenance throughout their lifespans. The students of SFU feel strongly that such plans should be in place for all public infrastructure in order to protect the significant investments made in these buildings.

Provide sufficient and permanent annual funding to adequately maintain all of SFUʼs buildings, roadways, and other facilities.

Deferred maintenance will continue to be a serious issue at SFU in perpetuity unless additional funding is made available to the university; such funding must be ear-marked for maintenance and must be able to be relied upon year after year. While external grants, sponsorship, and donations are certainly helpful, they are often temporary and only dedicated to new buildings. Only permanent annual funding that fully covers the cost of maintaining all of SFUʼs buildings, roadways, and other facilities will allow the University to continue to thrive and provide world-class education in order to support the BC economy.

Relevant Links

AUCC Deferred Maintenance Factsheet

BC Budget 2012/15 - Backgrounder

BC Budget and Fiscal Plan 2013/16

Canadian Department of Finances - Federal Support to Provinces and Territories

Knowledge Infrastructure Program

SFU 5 Year Capital Plan 2012/17

SFU NWCCU Self-Report, 2011


1 SFU 5 Year Capital Plan, pg. 1.

2 SFU 5 Year Capital Plan, pg. 21.

3 SFU 5 Year Capital Plan, pg. 20.

4 SFU 5 Year Capital Plan, pg. 36.

5 NWCCU Self-Report, pg. 119.

6 SFU 5 Year Capital Plan, pg. 36.

7 Knowledge Infrastructure Program website.

8 Canadian Department of Finances - Federal Support to Provinces and Territories website.

9 AUCC Factsheet, pg. 1.

10 BC Budget 2012/15 - Backgrounder, pg. 3.

11 BC Budget and Fiscal Plan 2013/16, pg. 28.

12 NWCCU Self-Report, pg. 119.