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Jul 18, 2017

University of Arizona, Building Victim of Neglect Owing to Tight Budget, Soon to See Work

A handsome, but neglected, academic structure on the main Tucson campus of the University of Arizona may finally be getting some long-needed attention.

The Animal and Comparative Medical Sciences Building, otherwise known as Building 90, was built when Lyndon Johnson was president, and is one of several structures on the UA campus suffering from the longterm effects of deferred maintenance, primarily in its heating and cooling systems.

Roof disintegration.  Photo courtesy of University of Arizona

And it’s not alone.

Altogether UA today is confronted with more than $131 million in deferred maintenance needs, the legacy of the Great Recession – or, more to the point, a drying up of State of Arizona funding for such needs caused by the economic downturn.

Although one local news source earlier this year suggested that several students working in the polygon-shaped, nearly 60,000 square-foot Building 90 have fallen ill due to its poor air quality, Chris Sigurdson says the structure is not dangerous.

“We have no unsafe buildings here,” says Sigurdson, the vice-president of communications at UA.

“They’ve done tests to make sure, and so forth.”

Basement leaks.  Photo courtesy of University of Arizona

UA professor David Besselsen, whose office is in another structure on the UA campus, says the issues confronting Building 90, which is located at 1117 E. Lowell Street on the southern end of the campus, are all related to its age.

“It’s a 50 year-old building,” he says, “so it certainly has some issues that go along with being a 50 year-old building.”

“But the bones of the facility, as far as any of us know, are fine,” Besselsen adds.

Building 90, however, isn’t the only structure on the UA campus in need of work.

Ceiling water damage.  Photo courtesy of University of Arizona

According to reports, the two-story Mines and Metallurgy Building, completed in 1940, and the famous Steward Observatory, built nearly a century ago, have a combined nearly $15 million in deferred maintenance needs, mostly centered on heating and cooling system issues that in recent years have gone unaddressed.

Meanwhile, last summer a circuit breaker at the Banner-University Medical Center at UA overloaded, causing a back-up generator to catch on fire. The hospital’s electrical system was linked to an aging 50 year-old electrical system in an adjacent structure that was also suffering from a lack of updated maintenance.

“About 70 percent of our deferred maintenance issues are behind the walls, so to speak,” says Sigurdson, “particularly where you have condensation, because we are constantly chilling and cooling.”

But now help is on the way for Building 90 as the result of a bill passed this spring by the Arizona State Legislature and subsequently signed into law by Governor Doug Ducey who called the legislation “a big investment in Arizona’s future.”

That praise was echoed by Eileen Klein, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, who, in a statement, said House Bill 2547 “represents the state’s biggest investment in our public universities in a generation.”

The $1 billion bill will provide about $30 million a year over the course of the next decade to help universities in Arizona fund their facility repair needs and essentially catch up with a catalogue of maintenance issues that have gone unaddressed.

For UA the legislation means about $400 million: $200 million for deferred maintenance needs and another $200 million for new research buildings.

In June members of the Arizona Board of Regents, which governs UA, as well as Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University, gave its approval to the deferred maintenance projects at UA, which includes Building 90.

“This bonding authority is just a boon for us,” says Sigurdson, who notes that UA will now sell revenue bonds to finance the project, in addition to the funds that were already approved by House Bill 2547.

A formula will see half of the money paid on those bonds paid for through UA matching funds, with the other half paid via state appropriations.

Sigurdson additionally notes that Building 90 will be the “first building we apply those funds to, once the project has been approved by the state legislature.”

If all goes well, work on Building 90 could begin sometime later this year with a a general summer 2018 completion date.

 

By Garry Boulard

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