Howard University delays spring classes due to extreme weather-related damage
- Extremely cold temperatures placed unbearable strains on Howard University’s heating system, causing massive power outages, heating failures and resulting in millions of dollars in damage, reports the local NBC affiliate Channel 4 News.
- Several residence halls and academic buildings are without heat and hot water. The university's main campus will lose heat for two hours while a temporary boiler is installed to support Howard University Hospital. Up to 300 students were provided emergency blankets and hand warmers.
- Residence halls are open, and university officials expected a temporary boiler to be in place by Sunday evening to begin pushing heat towards the main campus residence halls.
Although it is hard to account for the impact of unseasonably cold temperatures, much of what Howard officials are dealing with offer others in higher ed a glimpse of how major infrastructure catastrophes could disrupt campus operations. Deferring the maintenance costs of aging campus infrastructure is a widespread approach taken to save money in the face of significant budget cuts. However, those projects — and the associated costs — don’t go away, and eventually they could pile up to cost an institution millions of dollars. Many colleges are already grappling with problems, stemming from their aging infrastructure, that have grown beyond their capacity to meet them without drastic action. In California, the public college system’s deferred maintenance bill is estimated at $47 billion. After years of state funding cuts, Louisiana’s deferred maintenance bill for its public colleges has also reached into the billions of dollars. Local Louisiana papers described some campus conditions as unsafe and “disgusting.”
It’s not a sexy fundraising pitch to talk about the costs of repairing and maintaining old campus buildings. And when considering other college spending needs, maintenance often losses out to competitors like financial aid or new buildings. It will never be the case that colleges can fully prepare for worst case scenario involving extreme events like the ones affected Howard University, but such events are a reminder of the need to explore innovative arrangements to bring down their maintenance needs and spending. However, when critical budget decisions must be made, while it isn't an attractive option for recruiting and marketing, it is more prudent to allocate funds towards maintaining and upgrading already existing buildings than constructing new ones alongside the old. This is particularly true if there are no plans to discontinue use of the existing buildings in the near future.