April 2, 1999

Campus leads UC in maintenance

By Kathleen Holder

UC Davis, trying to make inroads on a $150 million backlog of deferred maintenance, invests more per square foot than any other UC campus in maintaining its buildings.

Over the three-year period from 1995 to 1998, UC Davis spent $2.99 per square foot annually in maintaining its instructional and research facilities, according to benchmark data gathered by University of California's Partnership for Performance Program.

That rate was highest of the nine UC campuses, which annually spent an average of $2.29 per square foot, but lower than two private schools used for comparison. Those campuses--University of Southern California and Stanford University--averaged $3.68 a square foot.

On the other hand, UC Davis was in the lower one-third among UC campuses for spending on custodial services, groundskeeping, refuse and utilities--spending $3.13 annually compared to the systemwide average of $3.71 per square foot. By comparison, the per-square-foot average for USC and Stanford was $2.85.

Darrell Ralls, associate vice chancellor for facilities, said the numbers reflect UC Davis' decisions during lean budget years in the early 1990s to shift money from facilities administration and from custodial and groundskeeping into building maintenance.

When budgets were reduced in the early 1990s, repairing roofs, servicing heating and air-conditioning systems and completing other building maintenance was deemed more critical to the campus's missions than landscaping and cleaning services, he said.

"It is a very serious threat to the quality of teaching and research by our faculty when the building housing them has air-quality problems, is too hot or is leaking," Ralls said.

In addition, he said, "The campus has made a major investment in our buildings. Just good asset management would dictate that we try to protect them."

UC Davis invests 49 percent of its $44 million facilities budget on annual and deferred maintenance, a ratio midway between that of UC campuses overall and the private comparison schools, Ralls said. On average, UC campuses spent 38 percent of their facilities resources on maintenance, while Stanford and USC averaged 56 percent.

For purchased utilities, UC Davis was in the middle of the pack even though it has more extremes in temperature than any other UC campus.

When the number of hot and cool days are factored in, UC Davis had the lowest utilities cost in the UC system, Ralls said. The campus buys electricity from the federal Western Area Power Administration at rates far lower than commercial power companies. However, Ralls said that even if UC Davis paid local utility rates, costs would still be below all other UC campuses once the weather is factored in.

UC Davis also had higher refuse costs than other UC campuses, partly reflecting spending in the early 1990s to improve the campus's landfills, Ralls said. In addition, some of the more urban campuses are able to secure cheaper dumping rates at municipal landfills.

UC Davis is the only UC campus to operate its own landfills. A previous study by the UC Davis Planning and Budget Office determined maintaining those landfills was more cost-effective than trucking refuse elsewhere.

UC Davis' overall spending on its facilities, at $ 6.12 per square foot annually, was 2 percent higher than the systemwide average, but 6 percent lower than Stanford and USC.

One reason for the difference could be that among UC campuses, UC Davis has the greatest number of facilities with 1,100 buildings on the largest amount of land-5,200 acres. However, it is third in amount of building space at 7.5 million square feet, compared to UCLA's 9.3 million square feet and UC Berkeley's 9.2 million.

Over the past nine years, UC Davis' average facilities costs rose only 1 cent per square foot, or one-10th of a percent, Ralls said.

Yet the campus increased its investments in maintenance during the last three years by 17 percent per square foot compared to what it spent from 1989 to 1992, he said. It did so by cutting custodial, grounds, refuse and utility costs per square foot by 12 percent over the same period, he said.

State funds for deferred maintenance increased this academic year, but UC facilities managers believe funding still remains below industry standards, Ralls said. At the current rate, it would take two decades to get through the campus's backlog of deferred-maintenance projects, he said.

While the campus may at some point wish to increase its spending on custodial services and groundskeeping, Ralls said, "I think our challenge now is to make sure we invest the funds we get wisely. While we still have $150 million of deferred maintenance, I think we're going to stay the course."

Ralls cautioned against reading too much into the facilities benchmark data. "Benchmarking does not tell us what is right. Just because we have lower costs for custodial [services] than other UC campuses, it doesn't mean that we're right and they're wrong. It just means that we have chosen to put more funds in maintenance than have other campuses.

"The data do indicate that we made a marked shift in how we are using our resources and have exceeded the goals that we set," he said. "It's not easy. We have had to hold the line in other areas where we're reducing the costs."

Ralls praised custodians, groundskeepers and mechanics for the quality of their service despite tight funding. "I'm really proud of our facilities staff. Given the demands on facilities staff employees, I think they really have done an excellent job."

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Dateline UC Davis is the faculty and staff newspaper for the University of California, Davis.