Progress is aplenty on the campus of Fort Hays State University. It does not seem as if a month goes by without news of yet another large donation, the creation of a new program, or either the renovation or construction of a building.
The financial gifts can keep on coming. They represent not only satisfaction with an alma mater, but allow the school more opportunities to serve the student body.
New programs and courses reflect FHSU's commitment to the marketplace. When administrators and faculty recognize unmet needs, they respond. Again, current and future students benefit from the transformations.
The recent approval by the Kansas Board of Regents for FHSU's new art and education building does, however, warrant a closer look. The need has been identified, as President Edward Hammond noted two of the "fastest-growing units" on campus could use more space.
"This will be a fantastic addition to our campus," Hammond said.
We have no doubt about that. And it was an easy sell for the Regents, as they will not be providing any of the $21.3 million needed for the new building. Neither will the state of Kansas.
According to Dana Cunningham, director of facilities planning, the money will come from university funds, as well as a private gift component. The same is true for the renovation of Rarick Hall, which will open up with the completion of the art and education building, and the Wiest Hall replacement residential living complex yet to be built.
Fort Hays found funding to build the new Heather Hall and Agnew Hall dormitories, Tiger Place apartment complexes, the Schmidt-Bickle Indoor Training Facility, the Center for Networked Learning, the Robbins Center, and renovation at Tomanek Hall.
It will do the same for the future expansion of the Memorial Union, a new childcare facility and renovation of the Old Power Plant. And whatever else appears on the horizon of a growing institution.
"There always is lots of smaller construction projects going on," Cunningham said last summer. "It just so happens that there has been quite a lot of building construction, too, the past couple of years."
Knowing that from 2000 to 2010, FHSU was the fourth-fastest growing university in the nation, and the current plan to have 20,000 students by 2020 is on track, more construction is inevitable.
But so is taking care of the buildings. Once built, buildings need to be taken care of to ensure longevity. When Fort Hays created its biennial list of deferred maintenance in 2012, the backlog figure stood at approximately $50 million. Another $7 million was identified for exterior infrastructure needs, such as sidewalks, electrical lines, etc.
The Kansas Board of Regents reported a deferred maintenance backlog of $762 million in fall 2012, which was an improvement from two years earlier, but the Legislature continues to underfund this critical expense. As state revenues continue to erode, we do not anticipate Topeka doing any better with maintenance in the future.
But it begs the question: Why do we keep adding to the inventory of state-owned buildings without any long-term plan to maintain them? Or even get caught up on everything that's been put off to date?
As Fort Hays State University continues to grow its physical campus, we would suggest those questions get answered sooner rather than later. As each building belongs to the citizens of Kansas, taxpayers deserve assurances the beautiful new additions have schedules in place to ensure their proper upkeep. We deserve to know these aren't castles made of sand.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry