Regents wrestle with deferred maintenance issues at Nevada colleges

CARSON CITY— College students already burdened with an array of fees to cover the costs of their education might soon face a new levy to help pay for a nearly $1.5 billion tab to maintain and upgrade campus buildings and related infrastructure.

The Board of Regents, meeting in Elko Friday, was told that the higher education system needs to invest a minimum of $60 million a year in deferred maintenance just to tread water, but is now spending only about a quarter of that amount.

A report to the board shows that UNLV faces a $286 million backlog, with the much older University of Nevada, Reno in need of nearly $900 million in overhauls.

Over $300 million in projects system-wide are considered to be critical needs over the next two years.

The board was told the options for obtaining additional funding to maintain and repair campus buildings is limited. Seeking support from the Legislature, finding money from within the existing Nevada System of Higher Education budget and tapping students for additional funds are among the limited options, board members were told.

System Chancellor Dan Klaich said his administration should be providing options to the board, but has thus far failed to come up with a recommended solution. Looking at a new student fee is an option, but it would have to be significant to make a real difference in the backlog, he said.

Another difficult option might be for a campus to delay new construction and invest the money in deferred maintenance instead, Klaich said.

“But this is a daunting issue,” he said.

The issue will come back to the board for further discussion in December. In the meantime, more work will be done on the subject.

Regent Cedric Crear said the issue is also about campus priorities.

“Our institutions always seem to find money for things they want to do,” he said. “It is kind of tough to sit back and say we’re in dire straights when we always have money to do the things … There is always money to do something.”

Regent Allison Stephens said the approach should be multifaceted, and not just consist of implementing student fees or seeking legislative support.

Regent Ron Knecht said it is a serious issue, but he also suggested that the board not rely solely on the recommendations of system facilities personnel.

“We need to not just obsess and focus on how important deferred maintenance is and the worry that if we don’t do this, something might happen,” he said.

Every dollar spent on maintenance is a dollar not spent in the classroom or for research, Knecht said.

Regent James Dean Leavitt suggested the board consider a student fee with a match from the Legislature.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900. Follow him on Twitter @seanw801