Many of Canada’s campuses are filled with big concrete buildings that are a legacy of the huge expansion of universities in the 1950s and ’60s. Those buildings are now aging – and sometimes not very gracefully. With finances tight, universities have put off needed repairs, leading to a huge deferred maintenance bill.
But now, according to a new study by Statistics Canada, a bit of good news: the average age of Canada’s education infrastructure (which includes K-12 as well as postsecondary) has actually fallen slightly since the early 2000s.
According to StatsCan, in 2008, the nation’s education infrastructure was an estimated 20.1 years old on average, slightly below the peak of 21.3 years in 2000. This decline, says the federal agency, “was fuelled largely by new investments in university buildings, mainly in Ontario and Quebec.”
More from StatsCan:
Education buildings were at their youngest in 1969 when the average age hit 11.0 years, following huge investments in new facilities to accommodate a large inflow of baby boomers. The average increased rapidly until the mid-1980s. … From the mid-1980s to the turn of the millennium, the average increased, but at a slower pace.
The average age of university buildings may yet fall a bit more. That’s because the latest data are from last year and don’t include the $2 billion being spent on college and university infrastructure through the federal government’s Knowledge Infrastructure Program.
However, even though some of that $2 billion in federal funds is being used to refurbish existing buildings (and not just building new ones), the deferred maintenance issue is far from settled. According to the Canadian Association of University Business Officers (see the citation here), the accumulated deferred maintenance deficit at Canadian universities is about $5.1 billion, of which about half is considered urgent.
This is the problem with averages. It is very plausible that with all the new infrastructure funding in the past few years, there are a lot of new new buildings around. And that alone bumps up the average age.
It is also possible, that the number of older buildings badly needing maintenance has not changed at all.
If there isn’t a lot of money around for routine maintenance (most of the Infrastructure funds explicitly exclude this, it is not a sexy thing for private fundraising, and the block grant for teaching is not sufficient to cover it) then the maintenance problem hasn’t gone away because the average age of buildings has gone up.