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Missouri’s public colleges need $1.4 billion in maintenance upgrades

Crumbling sidewalks, peeling ceilings and outdated classrooms are some of the challenges facing Missouri’s public colleges and universities.

A campus review by the Missouri Department of Higher Education tallied up a $1.4 billion deferred maintenance backlog across the state’s two- and four-year campuses. This is the first review of its type in a decade.

There are 26 publicly-funded campuses in the state with more than 2,400 buildings over 27,000 acres.

"That is an incredible footprint for them to maintain," said Jeff Barlow, an assistant commissioner of higher education, who led the review.

Needs across that network include basic repairs but also upgrades to technology and equipment.

“We now have a significant need for these institutions to be technology enabled,” Barlow said, in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.

He toured several campuses and found outdated laboratories.

“Literally, college classrooms for chemistry that were below the standards of their local high school, just because they didn’t have the ability to keep up,” he said.

Antiquated science labs and cracked sidewalks make it hard for schools to recruit and attract students.

“There’s no doubt that when a student walks onto your campus, you want them to say, ‘wow, this looks like a great place I would like to go for the next three, five years and earn a degree and feel proud of that degree,’” Barlow said.

A large chunk of the backlog is at the University of Missouri System’s four campuses, ranging from $154 million at Missouri University of Science and Technology to $404 million at the flagship Columbia campus.

“We have to keep our facilities as modern as possible to attract the students and faculty members to do the work,” University of Missouri System President Mun Choi said at a recent news conference.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis’ maintenance and facilities needs sit at $363 million. The campus was built in the 1960s, but the college has acquired buildings from various Catholic orders south of Natural Bridge Road that predate its founding by several decades.

“You drive by the buildings and they look fine from the outside, but the walls are crumbling in behind it; the systems have become dated; the technology doesn’t exist anymore,” said UMSL spokesman Bob Samples.

UMSL’s capital request this year is $62 million, which Samples said would go to renovations of existing space.

Higher education officials won’t ask for all $1.4 billion from the legislature next year but plan to use the figure to lobby for more capital funding, including $14 million in emergency maintenance needs.

Editor’s note: The University of Missouri Board of Curators, which also governs The University of Missouri System, holds the license to St. Louis Public Radio. The station is editorially independent.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

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Ryan Delaney
Ryan is a reporter on the education desk at St. Louis Public Radio, covering both higher education and the many school districts in the St. Louis region. He has previously reported for public radio stations WFYI in Indianapolis and WRVO in upstate New York. He began his journalism career working part time for WAER while attending Syracuse University. He's won multiple reporting awards and his work, which has aired on NPR, The Takeaway and WGBH's Innovation Hub. Having grown up in Burlington, Vt., he often spends time being in the woods hiking, camping, and skiing.
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