The difference between the quality of buildings on UNC's campus can be stark. Sleek modern science buildings can be placed next to older, historical ones, but maintaining the quality of these buildings can turn into a financial struggle.
University Archivist Nicholas Graham said there have been a few building booms at UNC over the years. He said three of the major periods of expansion were the 1920s, when much of Polk Place was constructed; after World War II, when enrollment grew; and in the early 2000s, when Koury, Hardin, Horton, Craige North, Ram's Head Recreation Center and Chase Dining Hall were built.
“Usually they coincide with major new initiatives in the University, expanding enrollment. In the 2000s there was significant state support to build new buildings on campus,” he said. “So it all happens for different reasons.”
Graham said the preservation of historic as well as more modern buildings has always been one of the University’s top priorities, and is part of an ongoing process to maintain the best learning environment possible for students.
“UNC is conscious of its historic character, and you have to balance that with having a modern campus,” he said.
David Owens, faculty chair of the Building and Grounds Committee, said having adequate resources to maintain campus buildings has always been a challenge for the University.
“The University has always had greater success in securing money to construct new buildings than to maintain and renovate buildings,” he said. “The state funds renovations, but generally the budget to do that has not kept up with the need, whether it is repairs and renovations of our historic buildings on the center of campus that are 200 years old, or a 50-year-old building.”
Owens said the process of securing funds is different with each building. He said the law school has had a renovation plan in the works for a decade, without any success. However, Owens said Kenan Memorial Stadium’s seating is currently being renovated because money was able to be secured from athletics funds.
“So sometimes you can do these 5 and 6 million dollar projects for renovation with athletic funds,” he said. “But the medical school had to wait for appropriation, and the law school’s still waiting, because they don’t have the money or the appropriation.”
Owens said that in the last decade the state has pushed the University to find other sources of funding, whether through private sources, fundraising, grants or tuition fees.
“So the University has a lower level of state support than it did 20 years ago, and that’s lower than it was 50 years ago,” he said. “And that’s part of the changing environment of higher education in the state in terms of how you finance it. And that is a broader issue that affects everything, not just building renovation or building construction.”
Anna Wu, the associate vice chancellor for facilities services, said UNC has a significant backlog of deferred maintenance projects.
“We haven’t received as much funding to put towards these kinds of projects, and so when you don’t regularly invest in building renewal, then your backlog is going to increase,” she said.
Wu said comprehensive renovations are preferred, and sometimes very necessary, but that there is not always adequate funding or the chance to shut down an entire building to undertake such a project.
“We don’t always have the opportunity to take a building offline to do a complete renovation, and so in some cases even though that might be our preference, we might take a piece by piece approach,” she said.
Wu said many of the problems facing the University could be solved if the state launched a more regular funding process.
“If you speak to anybody in the university system, what most people will say is that what would work best is regular or annual funding, because that would enable us to do better planning. If you don’t know how much you’re going to get from one year to the next, it’s harder to do long-term planning.”
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