LSU infrastructure needs likely millions higher given unfactored rise in construction costs | News

Note: Louisiana legislators will decide what to do with a significant surplus of cash available to the state in the next legislative session in March. Ahead of the session, The Reveille is dedicating a string of stories looking at LSU’s infrastructure. This is the eighth story in the ongoing series.

LSU’s estimated deferred maintenance and new infrastructure needs are likely much higher given the unfactored rise in construction costs since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Roger Husser, assistant vice president for LSU Planning, Design & Construction. 

The cost of materials has risen 15-20% since the start of the pandemic, Husser said, meaning that LSU’s $659-million deferred maintenance project list is likely millions of dollars higher than projected.  

Some projects have been in the backlog for a number of years, meaning that the major increase in the cost of construction materials wasn’t factored in. 

That means whatever money is approved by the legislature in next month’s regular session will make less of a dent in the university’s needs than it would have in previous years. 

What would Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed $108.9 million for deferred maintenance buy, and how much of a dent would it make in LSU’s long list of infrastructure problems?

Edwards proposed that sum in his executive budget, with Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne adding that much of it would go to institutions of higher education.

However, as Dardenne pointed out during his presentation to the Joint Legislative Committee of the Budget on Jan. 25, the legislature has not always gone along with Edwards’ recommendations regarding deferred maintenance spending.

At the last meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference on Jan. 11, Senate President Page Cortez indicated that he would support using some of the state’s $1.5 billion in surplus on infrastructure and deferred maintenance projects, meaning the legislature may be amenable to the governor’s recommendation. 

“Traditionally, we haven’t had money dedicated annually to infrastructure projects, so when we get a surplus I consider that a priority for a one-time investment that will continue to pay dividends for decades,” Cortez told USA Today. 

If that $108.9M was approved, only a sliver of it would go to LSU. 

According to Dardenne, when the legislature approves money for deferred maintenance, that money is up to state departments and agencies to divvy up.

For higher education spending, it goes to the Board of Regents, which gets to decide how much each of the four university systems gets. Even after that, LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge is one of 10 schools in the LSU system. 

Last year, LSU received $5 million from the state for infrastructure projects. That $5 million, a small drop in the bucket LSU’s needs, paid for 12 of over 7,000 projects on the deferred maintenance list, including replacing the roof on Nicholson Hall, coating the roof on the LSU Library and paying for part of the studio arts building renovations.

Just how expensive are LSU’s deferred maintenance needs? 

New Construction

Although the LSU Library, and the need for a new one, gets plenty of public attention, a new library is not LSU’s top priority for new construction. 

According to Husser, the biggest priority is an Interdisciplinary Sciences building. When LSU undertakes new construction projects, deferred maintenance projects are also bundled in. 

“We’ve packaged that project together with renovating the food science building to relocate Dairy Science,” Husser said. “Then we’re demolishing the Dairy Science Building which has deferred maintenance issues and we’re doing some utility infrastructure as part of that project.” 

The Interdisciplinary Science building would cost a little over $100 million, with about 20% of that amount going to deferred maintenance costs, removing over $20 million from LSU’s deferred maintenance backlog. 

The Priorities

In addition to the deferred maintenance list, LSU keeps a list of projects with certain levels of priority. There are 65 projects on the list, totaling $32,970,000. That almost $33 million would buy significant repairs to the LSU Library, including waterproofing the basement and roof repairs.

It would also buy foundational repairs for the Renewable Natural Resources building. The 36-year-old building has experienced significant problems since Hurricane Gustav in 2008.

The priority list also includes major renovations to over 40 other locations on campus, encompassing a number of improvements from facade repairs, wheelchair access and even replacing fire alarm systems.

The elephant in the room

Even after you clear the $33-million priority list, 45 library-related projects remain on the full deferred maintenance project list, which would cost about $28M.

The library has numerous problems affecting a variety of systems. There are about $5 million worth of electrical system projects, ranging from a $1.9 million wiring project to a $50,000 investment in new outlets and switches.

The biggest issues in the library, as expected, are with the building’s shell, meaning the minimum components such as the foundation, floors, roof, and walls. The full cost of these projects is about $29 million.

A total renovation of the interior shell would cost $24,365,000. It’s unclear how many of the other items listed under the interior shell system would fall under a “full renovation,” but some projects listed include replacing flooring, ceiling repairs, and painting.

The library’s plumbing also needs about $6.9 million worth of work done. The big ticket items in plumbing are two piping repair projects totalling about $6 million. There are also bathroom renovations required as well as smaller projects, like replacing faucets and drinking fountains.

Notably, the library needs about $4 million in fire code updates. Both the fire alarms and the smoke detectors have been in need of over $1 million in maintenance and/or repair since 2017.

What else?

After the priority list and the library, LSU would still have a deferred maintenance backlog of $598 million with over 150 locations at LSU that haven’t been touched.

The single location with the highest financial need is the Veterinary Medicine Building, totalling about $39 million. The list also names seven other locations associated with the vet school which have a total combined need of about $2.3 million, meaning the vet school has an actual need of about $41.3 million in deferred maintenance spending.

Other notable possibilities are the notorious Lockett Hall, which needs $10.6 million in deferred maintenance spending, the Renewable Natural Resources Building, requiring just over $9 million in spending, and the Himes Testing Center, which also needs just over $9 million.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not just old and decrepit buildings that need cash. Patrick F. Taylor Hall, which received a $144 million facelift in 2014, is in need of six projects totalling $3.6 million. The Business Education Complex, built in 2010, is in need of over $2 million.


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