Building repairs on rise

By Nissin Behar

NIU’s physical plant employees worked on more than 60 projects this summer, including the ceiling in Lincoln Hall’s dining areas, remodeling bathrooms in Neptune, installing smoke detectors in Stevenson North and repairing columns at all four Stevenson towers.

“The buildings are getting older and more of them need repairs than did 10 or 15 years ago,” said John Harrod, director of the physical plant.

“The roofs decay, mechanical systems fail and building functions change. It’s difficult to get replacement parts for older structures and they are high-energy users,” he said.

Twenty-five temporary crafts employees were hired to handle the work load this summer. The physical plant has 65,000 hours of work requested, but only has 27,000 work hours available to complete the requests, Harrod said.

One physical plant employee said there is a limit to how much time the workers can put in and be paid because of limited funds.

Many employees have had to come in on Saturday and Sunday, she said, and they are still “very far behind.” There were hundreds of rooms to paint in the residence halls over the summer, and the work force was not big enough, she added.

The physical plant staff has had to operate as “firefighters” instead of fire-preventers, due to reduced state funding in recent years, Harrod said.

“If we could get turned around (by staying ahead of backlogged work), we could use the same staff to do preventive maintenance and avoid many of the problems,” he said.

The removal of asbestos at the University Health Center was completed last spring, and a contractor began roof and insulation replacement. Plant employees also are removing asbestos from the floor of Gabel Hall.

Physical plant staff also will replace electrical equipment in Adams, Altgeld and Williston Halls, Still Gym and the plant’s own storage lot to meet state contamination removal requirements.

The Holmes Student Center is undergoing about a $2.5 million replacement of exterior facing, with the contractor ahead of schedule, Harrod said. Bricks and balconies have been removed and limestone panels are being installed, aiming for a completion target of Nov. 17.