The board of trustees approved a measure to allocate last year’s $1.3 million budget surplus to maintenance and repairs, according to Vice President of Finance and Planning Amos Himmelstein.
The surplus resulted from both savings in some areas and increased revenue in others, Himmelstein noted. Vacancies in administrative positions, decreased spending on faculty salaries and revenue from “auxiliaries”—proceeds from Campus Dining or from events that rent out the campus—added to the surplus as well. The increase in revenue from Campus Dining may have been a result of students buying more expensive meal plans or off-campus students buying more from the school’s dining halls.
While the board could have voted to keep the money in the endowment, they took a less typical route and specifically earmarked the money for infrastructure improvement. With a backlog of deferred repairs estimated at $120 million, Himmelstein said the money would be helpful.
“Things are falling apart on us …. it’s an old campus,” Himmelstein said.
Air conditioning (AC) will be a priority, and Associate Director of Utilities Mel Johnson is looking into possibly installing new units in the residence halls. That project, however, depends on the feasibility and cost of bringing air from the school’s current chiller plant up the hill to the halls. Alternatively, the school can opt for energy-efficient electric units that run independently of the chiller plant. Some are opposed to new units altogether, given the potential negative effects on the environment, Himmelstein said. Either way, a decision will be made by Thanksgiving.
With an operating budget of around $100 million, the difficulty is balancing immediate, short-term needs with long-term sustainability projects, Himmelstein said.
“It’s difficult because there’s so much need, and only so many dollars that we have,” he said. “We’ve seen already some of our infrastructure equipment fail.”
Recently, pipes burst in the bioscience building and Johnson Hall flooded shortly after the building’s renovations were completed. Also in need of repair are campus boilers, water and sewer pipes, the heating, ventilation and AC systems in some buildings and laboratories in the Norris Hall of Chemistry.
“It’s that non-glamorous stuff that’s only invisible until it breaks,” Director of Facilities Thomas Polansky said.
Though there are plenty of other areas on campus that require updates, many projects can be funded through donations rather than the operating budget, according to Vice President for Institutional Advancement Shelby Radcliffe. Johnson Hall’s technology upgrades, for instance, were supported by donors. Infrastructure, however, is a harder sell.
“People like to pay for things they can see,” Radcliffe said.
Radcliffe, who oversees fundraising at Occidental, said that while sometimes infrastructure improvements can appeal to donors, $120 million is no small price, especially for something as unglamorous as routine maintenance. Himmselstein agreed.
“Who wants to put their name on a sewer pipe?” he said