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UMass facing a daunting repair bill

Report says Amherst needs an extra $1.8b

Among its findings, a new report identified 16 buildings, including the student union at UMass-Amherst, for demolition or replacement. The student union could cost $61.5 million. (Globe file photo/1999)

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, already in the middle of a building boom, still needs an additional $1.8 billion in the next decade and beyond to keep aging buildings in shape, to add new facilities, and to maintain its infrastructure, according to a report released yesterday.

Four years ago, UMass-Amherst began a $790 million building effort. This year, five new residence halls opened, along with two renovated dining halls. The state, UMass officials point out, has covered only about 13 percent of the annual construction costs, forcing the university to rely on other money, such as student fees and bonds.

The daunting price tag for future building costs highlights the gravity of the state's lack of investment in public higher education, say university officials and a key lawmaker.

The report, prepared by UMass, states that half of the 140 academic and administrative buildings at UMass-Amherst require immediate attention for various problems, including leaky roofs, malfunctioning heating systems, and out-dated laboratories and classrooms.

The deteriorating facilities, university officials say, are impeding the ability of UMass-Amherst to draw top professors and students as it tries to establish itself as one of the leading public university flagships in the country. Many of its classrooms are a relic of another age with professors relying on chalkboards instead of multimedia slide shows and other high-tech gadgets.

"It takes an enormous amount of money to keep the campus in good shape," said James Cahill, the university's director of facilities and campus planning who coauthored the report. "The capital needs are huge."

The report was done to plan for future funding requests from the state and to prioritize needs. University administrators, working with the consulting firm Sightlines Facilities Asset Advisors, examined 6.5 million square feet of building space. About 1 million square feet studied was built before World War II.

The report is considered the most comprehensive review of campus buildings, university officials said.

The report categorizes buildings in terms of whether they should be maintained, renovated, or demolished.

"It gives us a good road map of what needs to be done," said Jack Wilson, president of UMass.

In its review of building conditions, the report identified:

Sixteen buildings for demolition or replacement. The student union, which could cost $61.5 million, was included in the group.

Twenty-eight buildings in need of general maintenance or renovation. The 35-year-old Fine Arts Center, for example, needs $40 million to renovate performance spaces and other areas, while the 47-year-old Morrill Science Center requires $84 million in repairs and lab improvements.

Seventeen buildings in almost mint condition, including two engineering buildings, the Mullins Center, and the heating plant.

As a part of the $1.8 billion needed over the next decade, the report said $833 million needs to be spent over the next five years, on top of what the university is already spending.

State Senator Robert O'Leary, Democrat of Barnstable and chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, said he is hopeful the state will kick in some extra money.

"Public higher education has been badly under financed for a decade," he said. "This report just cries out there is a need for money."

The report about UMass- Amherst was issued as Governor Deval Patrick is devising a capital improve ment plan for the state's 29 campuses over the next five years. Public higher education officials expect the governor to present the plan to the Legislature in the next few months.

Wilson, who oversees the system's five campuses, lobbied the Legislature yesterday for $800 million for the next five years, of which half would go to UMass- Amherst.

The $800 million is among $2.1 billion in improvements identified for the system. The system will rely on campus funds to come up with $700 million, while the balance will have to be covered through fund-raising, federal research grants, and other sources, Wilson said.

With the system requiring so much, UMass-Boston has abandoned plans to reopen its underground parking garage, because repairs would cost $150 million.

But the university is seeking some money for repairs to the garage, because it serves as the foundation for most campus buildings.

Over the last seven years, the university system has spent $1.3 billion on capital projects.