Keeping Up with the Cuts

In 2009, Facilities Management agreed to discuss the effects that the budget cuts were having on their continued operations. Samara Larson, the assistant director and interim director of administrative and business operations of UCI Facilities Management, spoke to the New University on topics ranging from the function of Facilities Management at UCI to the effect that the budget cuts were having on personnel and the day-to-day operations required for the continued upkeep of the university grounds.

In addition to maintaining the grounds, plumbing, electrical and all the buildings on campus, Facilities Management is also tasked with the maintenance of the campus Fleet Services and Central Plant, where approximately two-thirds of the campus’ power demands are met. Despite the wide range of tasks that are required for the continued maintenance of UCI campus, Larson emphasized the difficulty of running a division that spanned the entire campus on a very short budget.

“Facilities has always run a pretty tight budget. We’ve run at a minimum staffing level. We’ve made sure we don’t have a lot of extra people that we can easily say [that] we can do without these people,” Larson said. “When our budget gets cut, we’re always looking very carefully at what could we cut back on that’s not going to impact the ability of the students, researchers and faculty to get their work done. There’s not a lot of room there.”

One big problem with the budget situation is that much of the money within the university isn’t considered “fluid.” Grants or funding appropriated toward a specific campus project must be used for that project, and any additional funds left over are typically returned to the granting authority. This “color of money” system essentially means that more often than not, there is little wiggle room available in how funds can and can’t be spent. Funding set aside for research cannot be used for funding staff salaries or building repairs. Furthermore, Larson noted that the records system used for tracking these funds is antiquated, to the point where without intimate knowledge of the code and syntax the system uses, understanding the system can be difficult, even to an experienced user.

This year, Facilities Management released an updated statement as to the current state of affairs within the division. According to the report, this year’s budget is approximately $60 million, of which half is allocated to utilities, expenses associated with operating the combined heat and power plant and distribution of utilities across campus. The rest of the funds are split between emergency repair situations or one-time expenses, ongoing maintenance and repair work on campus. The report noted that auxiliary structures that are self-supporting or not state-funded are recharged for utilities.

Funds have historically been awarded based on the total square footage of maintainable space. With the budget cuts and lack of state funding, the university has had to increase its own funding for Facilities Management to fill the shortfall. The addition of many new buildings without funding to cover those new costs has added additional complications. Furthermore, many of the newer research buildings have much higher energy and maintenance costs.

However, several energy-saving measures were implemented which helped to offset those increasing costs, including external funding for energy projects from the California Public Utilities Commission Strategic Energy Partnership.

While the university funding helped to ensure that there were no serious cuts to services provided by Facilities Management, the current level of funding for the 2010-2011 year is approximately 20 percent lower than in 2007-2008. Additionally, since the 2007-2008 year, 703,000 square feet of space was added with no additional resources available to fund the continued upkeep of the new space. As the gap widens, the various services provided by Facilities Management to the campus will become degraded in their efficiency and ability to react to campus maintenance requirements.

The report states that the preventative maintenance program has been devastated by the cuts, meaning that the stance of repairs has changed to be more reactive, increasing the risk of equipment and building failures. Exterior elements and building equipment are among the lowest priority as far as services rendered, while Life Safety, utilities and building structure services receive the highest level of attention.

The obvious consequence of the continued cuts is that while basic safety and operations can be achieved, the long-term viability of systems around campus will begin to degrade, as the lack of proactive maintenance and upkeep programs will increase the chance of equipment breakdown throughout the campus system. With the chance of increased budget cuts looming in the future, the possibility of a campus where the buildings and grounds are left in disarray while divisions like Facilities Management struggle to find the funds needed to ensure a high level of quality becomes a frightening possibility.

Information from this article was provided directly by Facilities Management, in addition to the interview with Ms. Samara Larson. The full interview can be found at http://ucibudget.blogspot.com/2009/10/im-sorry-state-is-walking-away-from-its.html