Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Board requests deferred maintenance proposal

Published: November 12, 2010
Section: News

Fix’er upper: The Castle is on the administration’s ‘critical list’ for buildings in need of renovations.
PHOTO BY Yuan Yao/The Hoot

The board of trustees requested at their bi-annual meeting last month that Brandeis prepare plans to fix the estimated $170 million in deferred maintenance needs the university currently has.

Deferred maintenance refers to renovations or repairs that the university has deemed necessary but which it has not done due to financial reasons, Senior Vice President of Administration Mark Collins explained.

“When you are at home, you don’t hear about deferred maintenance, you just hear that something needs to get fixed,” he said.

Part of the challenge facing the university is the age of many of its buildings. An average building is supposed to have a shelf-life of 40 years before it needs major renovations, and at Brandeis 54 buildings are more than 40 years old.

“You have to think of a building as a car,” Collins said. “You need to maintain it as you go along, but at some point, no matter how good care you take of it, the car gets old. Then you either sink money into keeping an antique car, or you go out and buy a new model.”

The Linsey Pool is an example of the troubles a financial crisis can cause for buildings. Closed in Oct. 2008 for heating and ventalation problems, the Linsey Pool has sat stagnant for more than two years because of a lack of funds to repair it.

“As of right now, we have three options for the pool: We could keep it closed, which nobody wants; spend $2.5 to $3 million to open it as a recreational practice pool; or we could spend $20 to $25 million to build a new one,” Collins said. “The problem with the last two options is they require resources we don’t have.”

The pool is not the only building suffering from the financial crisis. In March the ceiling and wall of a Schwartz Hall dorm room in the Castle Quad caved in, scattering metal, drywall and concrete. The Castle, and many other dorms on campus, have also had numerous leaks in the past year whenever there are heavy rains.

“It is no secret the castle needs a lot of work,” Collins said in an interview Monday. “I would bet after this week of rain there would be at least one or two spots that leak in there.

“The building is safe, and no one should be worrying about catastrophes happening,” Collins added, saying that work was done on the building over the summer, including the renovations of bathrooms in E Tower. “But right now we are just chasing water, investigating, patching and repairing. We need something more substantial.”

Both the pool and the Castle are on what Collins calls a “critical” list of buildings that need large-scale repairs. Also on the list are the library and the Slosberg Music Center. In the months leading to this spring’s board of trustees meeting, Collins and his staff, along with the senior administration, will be making a schedule for renovations to be presented to the board.

Renovating the Castle would be challenging logistically because of the building’s unique architecture. “A Castle renovation would not be like a normal renovation or the renovation of Charles River, it is more complex,” Collins said. “But you can’t replace it because it is iconic.”

While Castle renovations would consist primarily of roof and masonry work, renovations of other critical campus buildings, like Slosberg or the library, would require an overhaul of the energy systems, which would give the university the opportunity to become more energy efficient and “green.”

But with financial woes, making the list will not be easy. Last year the university spent $9 million renovating the Charles River apartments last year. The apartments, which house 351 beds, are already paying for themselves with more students living there this year than ever. But the Castle, which could cost the same amount to renovate, holds only 121 beds.

“The question is, do you choose to renovate that over the library, which is in better shape, but might cost less? It’s something to think about,” Collins said. “Because I can guarantee there is no way we are going to get $10 million for the Castle and then another $10 million for the library. We need to make choices.”

The Office of Planning and Institutional Research is involved in the planning, programming and preliminary design for major projects, including renovations, and Vice President for Planning and Institutional Research Daniel Feldman wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot that no matter what renovations are done in coming years, “that work is done in cooperation with other relevant groups within the university.”

“For an academic building renovation, the Academy is the primary client,” he wrote. “Students & Enrollment is also involved—since, of course, students are impacted by any renovation—and the Division of Finance and Administration, including Facilities Services is involved, since they have long-term responsibility for operating, maintaining and renewing the building.”

Additionally, if the university administration is only able to choose one building to renovate, Collins said there could be a question of prioritizing what each building represents.

“On the one hand, you have the Castle, which is iconic, but you also have the library, which represents us as an academic institution. And then if you chose to renovate some of the academic buildings, the question is which ones and for which departments,” Collins said.

Indeed, this year the art history, philosophy and classics departments moved from their older buildings into the new Mandel Center for Humanities.

That building was constructed during the summer and completed under budget with funding from the Mandel Foundation, Feldman wrote.

Feldman wrote that “the long-term master plan” for the university involves renovating some buildings in the Mandel Humanities Quad (formerly known as Rabb), and would also construct connectors between adjacent buildings, similar to the new connection between the Mandel Center and Olin-Sang. Feldman did not provide any details as to a timeline for when that renovation would occur.

The Mandel Center for the Humanities is just one of three buildings new to campus this year, with the other two buildings being the Shapiro Science Center and the Shapiro Admissions Center.

Due to financial reasons, Collins said he did not think it was likely that the university would have new construction projects anytime soon, saying “it’s time to focus on what we have.

“I love the new buildings on campus,” Collins said. “But I have 95 buildings total on campus, some of which are a lot less than nice.”