Neglect leads to $2 billion Alaska maintenance backlog, crumbling public facilities

The state defines deferred maintenance as work that should take place but is “postponed due to lack of resources.”

It would be more accurate to call this neglect, created by an institutional failure to pay for repairs or admit that they are needed. When state revenues are high, elected officials are willing to invest in repairs. When revenues drop it’s a different story.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget would add to the problem by providing less than $50 million to fix some of the most rundown facilities across the state. Former Gov. Bill Walker proposed a payroll tax that would have helped begin to catch up on the $2 billion backlog, but Dunleavy would rather that the problem go away.

It won’t. The price will climb with an administration that measures everything by the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend and refuses to consider taxes or the long-term costs of neglect.

One reason this doesn’t get enough public attention is how the issue is discussed in public. A crumbling boat ramp, a leaking school roof or the potential failure of the port in Anchorage is something people can grasp, but “deferred maintenance” is a bureaucratic term that conveys nothing.

There are dozens of schools as well as harbors, highways, airports, court buildings and recreational facilities in need of immediate attention.

Here is a report from 2018 on the backlog.

There are 2,200 state facilities with a replacement value of $8.6 billion, including University of Alaska facilities with 8 million square feet that have to be maintained.

The University of Alaska has $1 billion in backlogged projects, yet the Dunleavy budget includes only $5 million for UA work. The transportation department has a $300 million backlog in neglected work, while school districts need $200 million for major maintenance projects alone.

The Dunleavy plan is to allocate $7.4 million to school projects. Here is a compilation of repairs needed for a problem that is already out of control.

On the list of the top 72 major maintenance projects for schools, No. 67 is replacing roofs in Mat-Su on schools built in 1964, 1988 and 1995.

University facilities have an average age of 33, which means that internal systems are wearing out. The university allocates funds from its operating budget for deferred maintenance, but has fallen behind because of budget cuts elsewhere, which is why the price has climbed to $1 billion.

Much of the infrastructure at the University of Alaska Anchorage is more than 40 years old. A university account says that “buried utilities, fire hydrants, waterlines, drainage infrastructure, roads, trails, sidewalks, parking areas, curbs and gutters are part of the original construction or have been impacted by construction, repair and renovation projects over the years. The buried piping is beyond its useful life.”

In numerous structures, “building systems are beginning to fail, are no longer adequate for the current demands, and require replacement or upgrading. The mechanical, electrical and HVAC systems in particular fall into this category. Replacement parts for many of these systems are no longer available.”

Here are some specific UA problems described to state officials:

  • UAA roof repairs: One priority project would address the Wells Fargo Sports Complex roof system, which was built in 1977, is beyond its useful life, and is in need of renewal.

  • UAA library: The original HVAC systems consist, for the most part, of equipment over 46 years old located within the four central building cores. The boilers, main supply/exhaust fan units, heating/cooling coils, galvanized piping and humidification systems have all reached the end of their useful life.

  • UAA energy modules: Two energy modules were constructed in 1977 and provide heating and cooling services for a number of campus facilities. The energy module boilers, pumps and piping systems are over 40 years old and have been failing due to age, corrosion and fatigue.

  • UAA Kodiak campus: The buildings on the Kodiak Campus were constructed in the early to mid-1970s. The original windows suffer from worn seals that cause air infiltration. The mechanical and electrical systems are in need of renewal to meet the increased student demand and increased use of new technology. Roof repairs are required, specifically for the campus center.

  • UAA Valdez: The three student housing units were originally constructed in 1966 and completely renewed between 2008-2010. Roofing was not completed on two of three student-housing units and these facilities are showing damage from ice damming and resultant leakage.

  • UAA Kenai: A number of roofs are at or have exceeded their life cycle at the Kenai River Campus. Some roofs contain asbestos products, which will require some abatement prior to replacement.

  • UAF Bartlett Hall: The 48-year-old plumbing in one of UAF’s busiest residence halls l is actively failing and needs to be replaced. Over the last two years, the lateral drain lines running between the fixtures and main drain system failed approximately eleven times, leaking domestic waste onto students from ceilings in both the shower and toilet rooms, and required emergency repairs. Repairs often required that the restrooms and showers be taken off line. The leaks can only be repaired on approximately 10 percent of the system by selective demolition of the ceiling spaces. Ninety percent of the plumbing is inaccessible, yet is still susceptible to leaks.

  • UAF Moore Hall: Moore Hall is 52 years old and has the original plumbing, similar to Bartlett Hall. The plumbing has held up slightly better than Bartlett, but has begun to fail in the last year leaking domestic waste from the ceilings in the restrooms. Already this academic year, the plumbing has failed twice, requiring the facilities to be closed to students for repairs. This project will be similar to the Bartlett project with a complete plumbing replacement.

  • UAF Cutler Apartment complex: The Cutler Apartment Complex houses up to 240 residents and is the most popular student housing on campus. The fire alarm system for the Complex is not compliant with modern code, as the alarms are not interconnected within each block of apartments. This is a serious safety issue and must be addressed as soon as possible.

  • UAF Eielson Building: The Eielson Building, built in 1940, has the original single-pane windows. The building is very inefficient and costly to heat because of the window system. Many windowsills are dry rotted from moisture.

  • Mat-Su: The critical pumping and electrical equipment within the Matanuska Experiment Farm and Extension Center’s sewer system aeration tank is failing. The equipment is located in a wet well and confined space, which poses a hazard to anyone working on it. Additionally, the equipment is required to be explosion proof and it is not.

  • UAS, Novatney Building: The Novatney building roofing system has reached the end of its useful life and needs to be replaced. This project will replace the existing roof system with a new EPDM roof system with a 40-year life. If the roof is replaced before it substantially fails, the work can be completed without disrupting the programs in the building.

  • UAS Banfield Hall: Facilities staff opened up the hot water tank in Banfield Hall and found that some of the interior cement lining has come off the tank. Without this lining, this tank will fail in a couple of years and leave all of the UAS students living in this building without hot water for showers and leave the building without heat.

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