Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

Nova Scotia is home to some of the oldest universities in the country. The 10 institutions are imbued with history and tradition.

Many of them are also in rough shape.

Government documents released in response to a request for access to information show that schools face a total deficit of more than $ 600 million in deferred maintenance.

“A number of universities have approached the province for funding for capital infrastructure plans to replace or renovate existing infrastructure,” according to the briefing book prepared for Advanced Education Minister Brian Wong.

“To balance their budget, universities are delaying the cost of maintaining aging infrastructure.”

Peter Halpin is the CEO of the Association of Atlantic Universities. He says deferred maintenance at universities in the province has become a significant problem. (CBC)

But according to the executive director of the Association of Atlantic Universities, the shortfall is much greater than what the briefing notes indicate.

“In the projects we have identified, precisely in the areas of green energy efficiency, accessibility and digital infrastructure, our most recent assessment, which was made very recently, shows the deficit of about $ 1.3 billion,” said Peter Halpin in an interview Tuesday.

“So it’s a very significant problem.”

Halpin said deferred maintenance or renewal of campus infrastructure is “the most critical issue” facing universities and represents his organization’s No. 1 priority when speaking to provincial and federal governments about support.

The situation represents an economic threat to the universities in the province, he said.

“It’s no different than if you are a homeowner. You can not live with a leaky roof or leaky windows, because in the end, it affects the integrity of the whole structure.”

The organization has spent the past few years trying to bring a case to the federal government over investment in campus infrastructure at all Atlantic Canadian universities. They have placed particular emphasis on projects related to green technology, energy efficiency, digital infrastructure and accessibility, Halpin said.

Advanced Education Minister Brian Wong says the provincial government has been contacted by a number of universities seeking support for capital infrastructure. (David Laughlin / CBC)

Provincial governments are important partners in these efforts, and Halpin said he hopes they can be allies to make the case to Ottawa for more support.

The provincial minister of advanced education said he had already heard about the problem in his early days as a member of the new provincial government.

In an interview at Province House, Wong said the issue has arisen as he has toured universities and met with university presidents. He has scheduled several meetings with university presidents following the fall meeting of the Provincial House.

“As far as deferred maintenance right now is concerned, it’s just a topic we’re talking about to see how we move forward,” he said.

The Tories have promised large cash infusions to help solve the challenges of healthcare and the affordable housing market, but Wong said that does not mean there is no money for other problems.

Universities receive funding from the province each year through a memorandum of understanding as well as other allocations. Wong said how these awards are used is up to university officials to decide, though that is not always the case.

The province gave universities $ 3.6 million in 2018-19 and $ 20 million in 2019-20 specifically for deferred maintenance, according to the briefing.

Public benefits from university infrastructure

Halpin said universities are public institutions and that his organization continues to argue that the province plays an important role in making capital investments. He said the public and communities can benefit from access to things such as sports and recreation facilities, meeting rooms, libraries and art galleries.

While there is a correlation between maintenance needs and the size of universities, Halpin said the age of institutions is also a factor. He cited the University of King’s College in Halifax – one of the smallest but oldest universities in Canada – as an example.

“They have some real challenges in terms of maintaining the infrastructure on that campus – not just maintaining it, but getting it to a quality that, as you know, lives up to the expectations of today’s students.

“And it’s no different for many of our universities throughout the province.”

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