The University of Florida is asking for $30 million from the state to repair buildings on campus and a failing chiller that provides air conditioning on campus and UF Health Shands.
Florida House Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua, filed Florida State House Bill 2733 on Nov. 11, requesting a nonrecurring fund of $30 million from the state’s Department of Education to fix infrastructure problems in older buildings on UF’s campus.
The bill passed through the House’s Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee on Jan. 19 and is still awaiting approval from the Appropriations Committee before it continues to the House floor.
Jane Adams, a UF government relations spokesperson, said the state Senate will also discuss the request on the floor. Then, the House and Senate will discuss a compromised version of the request during the budget conference.
That compromised version, with the rest of the budget, will then be sent to Gov. Rick Scott by the first week of March for approval, Adams said.
The funding will be aimed at deferred maintenance issues, which are problems that have not been addressed because of a lack of funding, Adams said.
The pot of money this has traditionally come from is the Public Education Capital Outlay program that collects funding from taxes on landline telephones, Adams said. Over the past decade, this money has decreased dramatically.
UF spokesperson Margot Winick said if the funding is granted, a portion of the money would be used to repair a chiller, which keeps the air conditioning running across campus in classrooms and research labs in addition to the hospital.
“Having utilities maintained and also building new ones is key to attracting the best students, and researchers and faculty and moving up in the ranks,” she said.
The money will also be used to help repair a mildew problem in the UF Music Building, Winick said. The issue was caused by inadequate humidity control.
Every year the university puts in an infrastructure request, Winick said. Last fiscal year, the legislature granted $17.2 million.
In recent years, the lowest amount of infrastructure funding was in fiscal year 2012-2013 with $2.17 million granted, Winick said. The highest was 2016-2017 with $24.9 million.
The university is responsible for about 900 buildings, she said. That includes UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences’ buildings, which has at least one building in every Florida county.
UF has a 36-year-old average building age, which is the oldest of Florida public university system, Winick said. The Board of Governors has also requested $27.5 million from the state to be distributed between the 12 universities for infrastructure repairs.
Charlie Lane, UF’s chief operating officer, said much of the deferred maintenance that the funding would go to is not typically noticed, but it is important for the university’s daily operations.
“It could mean the difference between having classes and not having classes,” he said.
If the funding is granted, a portion of it will also go toward repairing piping and building envelopes, which is the physical separator between the interior and exterior of a building, Lane said.
“I think it would allow us to continue to be extremely competitive as a top ten public university, and it’s absolutely critical for us to receive this,” he said, “so our students would receive the best education and value we could possibly offer them.”