DES MOINES — They’re out of sight and largely out of mind, but tunnels are creating a mountain of maintenance costs for the state.
Repairs and replacements of tunnels for utilities as well as pedestrian corridors connecting buildings at the state Department Human Services and state corrections facilities make up about 15 percent of the $322 million in major maintenance projects that need to be addressed, according to Janet Phipps, director of the Department of Administrative Services, the state’s property manager.
It’s not just tunnels. At state facilities, there are windows and roofs that need repairs and replacement, driveways and parking lots in need of resurfacing and aging elevators and air handling systems that need attention. There’s also a cavelike berm at the Iowa Veterans Home that needs to be demolished and a mule barn at the Glenwood Resource Center, now used for maintenance storage, which needs a new roof.
The 437 items on the list Phipps presented to the Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee recently includes no new construction, but does include about $9 million for the demolition of buildings. Not a high priority, the demolition projects are number 410 to 421 on Phipps’ list.
The list also does not include $779.2 million of deferred maintenance needed at the regents’ university campuses — $655.5 million in maintenance and $123.7 million in utilities.
Mostly, Phipps said, the list is just maintenance projects that, in many cases, are overdue.
Major maintenance projects are expenditures beyond the normal upkeep of physical property to keep it working order to serve its purpose.
The list is growing because routine maintenance of state facilities has not been funded by the governor and Legislature since 2010.
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Most agencies, if they can, “take it out of hide,” Phipps said about the routine maintenance that gets done.
“We don’t save money by not funding routine maintenance,” said Rep. Dennis Cohoon, D-Burlington, a longtime member of the subcommittee. Eventually, those projects become major projects “and eventually replacement.”
This fiscal year, the Legislature appropriated $11.5 million from the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund for major maintenance. Gov. Kim Reynolds has proposed $3 million for fiscal 2019.
That doesn’t come close to addressing 35 projects with a price tag of $47 million that Phipps said need to be addressed this year because of extensive damage. Another 67 projects costing $30 million have damage, but don’t need to be addressed this year. Ten projects totaling $2 million need to be addressed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Human Services, which has 2.5 million square feet in 290 buildings, has 10 projects that total more than $30 million. The Department of Corrections has another 17 projects totaling about $7 million.
Freshman Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, was “shocked and appalled” by the numbers.
A former mayor, Nielsen said that repairs are “not as sexy as being able to say we brought Apple to Iowa,” but taking care of the investment taxpayers have made in facilities should be a priority.
“I’m ashamed of the job that’s been done,” she said.
The problem, according to Nielsen and Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, is that the state has funded private projects, such as economic development, at the expense of keeping up public ones.
“It doesn’t make sense to fund private projects when we aren’t taking care of our own,” Mascher said.
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There have been “tens of millions of dollars of private projects funded that I was opposed to just for the reason you mentioned,” replied co-chairman Dan Huseman, R-Aurelia. “But you have to compromise to get a final bill” even if that means diverting money from major maintenance.
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