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 Stories for May 6, 1998:

Regular Features:

Rx for Ailing Roofs and Aging Pipes
For Physical Plant Director Johnny Torrez, New Funding Model Holds Promise for Systematic Renewal of Campus Facilities

by Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs
posted May. 6, 1998

When the rains come and the ceiling begins to drip on the third floor offices of the UC Printing building, Johnny Torrez has a problem.

Some call it “the deferred maintenance problem,” others “the backlog.” Both are code words, says Torrez, for the deteriorated condition of campus buildings.

As director of Physical Plant – Campus Services, Torrez is responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of campus – the classrooms, auditoriums, offices and labs, and the infrastructure systems overhead, inside walls and in the basements.

According to Torrez, maintenance and repair have been underfunded for at least a decade. Appropriations covered basic custodial and grounds services, utility bills and small repairs. But money to keep belts checked and machinery oiled was not included. Nor were funds for the increased costs of materials and contractors.

“We kept losing ground,” says Torrez. “It was very much like a budget reduction.”

When maintenance is underfunded, he notes, building and equipment deterioration accelerates. A recent campus survey placed the maintenance backlog at $160 million. Torrez believes the real figure is much larger.

“Every system in a building has an expected life,” he says. A roof typically lasts 25 years, an air conditioning system 30, before it must be overhauled or replaced. “We have never had renew our systems. We could do it only on the basis of urgent need.”

Extrapolating from a complete analysis of two campus buildings – including renewal or replacement of aging roofs and other systems that have outlasted their projected lives – his office estimates the deferred maintenance backlog at nearly $300 million.

Plan for Upgrades Systemwide

As the oldest campus in the UC system, “the maintenance and renovation need is most grave here,” says Torrez. “A large part of the campus was built before 1970.”

But other UC campuses also have long lists of overdue maintenance projects. Recognizing the systemwide nature of the problem, the Office of the President last summer convened a Facilities Renewal/Deferred Maintenance Study Working Group, made up of Torrez and his counterparts from other campuses.

The group inventoried all nine UC campuses to detail the status of building infrastructure systems. They hope to use this survey to create a proactive program to renovate and replace building systems over the next 40 years, before they break down.

The Board of Regents, in response to the systemwide maintenance issue, recently approved a five-year plan to use out-of-state tuition fees to fund debt bonds generating $60 to $65 million per year.

“As a university system, we have finally come to understand the need to do this kind of systematic renewal,” said Torrez. “Our hope is that a permanent program will follow.”

Of the new funds for deferred maintenance systemwide for five years, Berkeley’s preliminary allocation is approximately $17 million annually, beginning in 1998-99.

“This represents an opportunity to look at all the other work we’re trying to do and to coordinate this with other projects,” Torrez said. “Wouldn’t it be nice, when we go in to seismically renew an old building like Barker Hall, to renovate the systems so that the building is both strong and in good condition for many years to come?”

Setting priorities and scheduling a large number of projects is a complex task, notes Torrez. “It’s about as hard to spend this money wisely as it is to get it.”

Campus Renewal for a New Era

Budget constraints have been one of Torrez’s biggest challenges since he came to campus six years ago from a career in private enterprise.

“I’ve been pushing and probing to get some attention on these issues most of the time I’ve been here,” says Torrez. “It’s much easier to attract donations for a new building. You can put your name on it. But think about the difficulty of attracting money for a sewer system!”

Torrez is optimistic about the new funds for facilities renewal as well as the support of the administration.

“Chancellor Berdahl has expressed understanding and a sincere concern for addressing the problem,” says Torrez.

Although air-conditioning systems and steam plants don’t make alluring photo opportunities, he notes, they have a great deal to do with the quality of life on campus.

“If your work space is not properly lit or heated, it’s not a good place for learning or research,” says Torrez. For “your best faculty and students (entertaining offers from several universities), the physical condition of the campus could well be the deciding factor.”

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