You may have a GPS on your tractor, a drone collecting thermal imagery of your fields, and an app to track your irrigation pivots, but your collegiate son or daughter is going to ag classes in buildings that are desperately in need of renovation.
According to a new study by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU) and facilities firm Sightlines, the nation’s agriculture schools have as much as $8.4 billion in deferred maintenance, from deteriorating HVAC systems to aging animal and plant research laboratories.
If that sounds like a big price tag, you’re right. But so is the scope of the country’s 91 ag schools whose 15,000 facilities and 87 million square feet add up to an estimated property value of $29 billion.
But delayed and inadequate investment may be putting that value at risk.
“The conclusions about the age of the buildings, the lack of capital investment in them over time and the levels of deferred maintenance needs are sobering,” said the report. “Fifty-four of the square footage analyzed are in buildings constructed from 1950 to 1975, a period of rapid, poor quality construction. These buildings have not stood the test of time in terms of holding up to wear and tear.”
The diversity of facilities at ag schools also adds to the problem; the study looked at classroom buildings, but also scientific labs, veterinary and animal care facilities, greenhouses, extension buildings, and farm and animal buildings, including barns, feed mills, and more.
Those specialized structures are also in need of some attention; the study found that $3.2 billion of the deferred maintenance is in science research facilities and $2 billion is in classroom and teaching spaces.
“Given the high level of deferred maintenance identified and the age profile, these core facilities are reaching a point when they risk increased building system failures, program interruption, or potential loss of research, unless they receive substantial investment,” the report said.
What can be done? The report recommended a co-operative approach, with colleges and universities, state governments and the federal government contributing to the effort. “The Federal government, Congress and USDA in particular have a huge stake in the research being conducted at schools of agriculture. In many campuses, the agriculture and agriculture related buildings are called ‘USDA buildings.’ A capital infusion of funds to renovate or replace the aging facilities will have an immediate return on investment and protect the billions in research currently being funded by USDA.”
To read the full report, click here.
What do you think should be done about aging building at university ag schools? Have you seen any ag buildings in need of renovation? Should schools go to private companies for funding? Should tuition be raised? Should the states or federal government provide grants or low-interest loans? Let us know in the comments.