Canadian Universities Improve Capital Planning to Support Educational Mission

November 29, 2010

By Ameeta Soni

Last week, I attended the 23rd Annual Real Property National Workshop at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It was a terrific event, and I was particularly pleased to see the Real Property Institute of Canada recognize the Ontario University System with an award in the “Best Practices in Service Excellence” category.

The Ontario University System, which includes 19 institutions and more than 6.5 million square metres of facilities, put in place a single, consistent method for assessing the condition of its facilities. Today, they can make capital planning decisions and have confidence in the supporting data and, therefore, the objectivity of the resulting decisions.

At many other universities and colleges across Canada, a new generation of executives is tackling the issue of how to modernize and improve facilities in order to support educational goals without breaking the bank. Some are grappling with fallout from funding reductions in the 1990s and others were hit by cuts stemming from the soft economy. Now, many have arrived at the point where they can’t continue to postpone substantial improvements to facilities because doing so may compromise their core mission.

The Canadian Association of University Business Officers has its own Facilities Management Committee. That group finds that “things like deferred maintenance, escalating construction costs, shortage of trades” and other related factors may start to affect “student recruitment and retention.” Clearly, in order to support the education mission,  they need to secure more funding for deferred maintenance.

Ironically, the institutions that have put off making investments in their facilities have been precisely the ones that could expect to receive the most money in financial assistance. But today, there’s a growing understanding that such a model is unsustainable. The alternative is for governments to promote the development of long-term capital plans for university and college facilities.

U.S. and U.K. universities face a parallel challenge with deferred maintenance. If you’re contending with this issue, how are you addressing it?

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