The University of Iowa is putting construction and maintenance on hold in order to absorb an estimated $5.5 million worth of budget cuts from state lawmakers. School officials say stalling necessary repairs will cost more in the long term.
University of Iowa officials see this year’s midyear budget cuts from lawmakers as the latest in a trend of disinvestment. In recent years the school has depended more and more on tuition as state funding has gone down.
UI Senior Vice President for Finance and Operations Rod Lehnertz says the university was already falling behind on the maintenance of its 50 year old buildings, even before the latest cuts.
“We’re now at about half of what we need to be spending to care for this campus. And of course deferring work on our campus for five months during this moratorium only exacerbates that challenge,” Lehnertz said.
But he says by stalling construction, the university hopes to insulate students and faculty from the funding cuts.
“The reason we’re doing this is to make sure that we maintain the excellence on the campus in spite of these cuts at this…late portion of the year," Lehnertz said. "They are physical changes to the campus and those have drawbacks but they’re not immediately ones that would impact our students."
Projects on hold include rebuilding the university's Museum of Art and expanding a UI healthcare clinic, among others. Stalled renovations include replacing roofs, elevators, windows and HVAC systems.
Projects that have been awarded bids or are already under construction will continue. Those addressing public safety, code enforcement or emergency issues are also exempt from the building freeze. Lehnertz says the university fully intends to follow through on the stalled projects, and will re-evaluate after the five month moratorium is over. But he says the work delays are a short term solution to long-term problem.
A university analysis shows student tuition now makes up roughly 65 percent of the school's general education fund, while state appropriations make up roughly 30 percent. That's the reverse of what it was in 1970.
"We've measured how this will impact us," he said. "We can't keep doing this."
Lehnertz says it's not clear if state lawmakers will make up for the $5.5 million loss.