Maintenance funds run low

By Jake Miller

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series looking into NIU’s Physical Plant and the funding and response times to projects on campus.

With a lack of workers and a growing list of projects to be completed on campus, the Physical Plant cannot keep up with the demand of work orders and special projects assigned to them.

Hiring out vs. overtime pay

The ability to hire more workers, along with other ideas, has been employed to alleviate some of the stress that comes with maintaining a large university.

To relieve some of the work, the plant hires from local unions as a stopgap. However, it is often difficult for external craftsmen to navigate the university in an orderly manner due to their lack of familiarity with NIU buildings, said Mike Saari, associate director of the Physical Plant.

The plant also has offered an alternative solution which has workers come in after hours to complete jobs.

“We offered an option to complete these special projects after hours. We have offered to come in on weekends or after 4 p.m. Unfortunately, this requires us to pay our employees overtime,” Saari said. “Some departments are willing to do it while others are not because it impacts their budget.”

Some departments have felt the Physical Plant is trying to take advantage of the overtime pay rate, but the physical plant is “not trying to price gouge,” Saari said.

“A typical contractor charges on the order an average of $100. We charge probably 60 percent of that,” he said.

With budget cuts affecting the efficiency, the plant also has been forced to prioritize the work orders. When prioritizing, someone is going to always get upset, said Bob Albanese, associate vice president of Finance and Facilities.

“I am in consultation with Frederick Schwantes, vice provost for Resource Planning, in regards to dealing with special projects and remodeling. He gives us the priorities in the academic areas,” Albanese said.

Albanese tries to accommodate everyone, but with a prioritization of the projects, someone is always going to feel frustration, Albanese said.

The Academic Mission

This frustration with increased cost and the prioritization of special projects led Andy Small, lab manager of the chemistry department, to find other solutions to the problem. Small does not agree with the idea each department should have to pay more money to have work done.

“We are not given a pot of money for maintenance, but a pot of money for the educational mission,” Small said. “The educational mission is what has been affected.”

Small stressed the importance of not affecting the “academic mission.”

Albanese also tried to reallocate funds within the Physical Plant to help resolve the issue.

“I have moved [funds] from the grounds department to building maintenance and other departments within the physical plant. I’ve moved funds to try and alleviate some of the issues,” he said.

University Council executive secretary Paul Stoddard, who is also the chair of the Steering Committee, said that the issue would be looked at.

“[The Steering Committee] will discuss the issue and will decide if something needs to be looked at and what can be done. Then we will assign it to the Resource, Space and Budgets committee,” Stoddard said.

Small saw his ideas come to fruition Wednesday as the University Council voted to send the issue to the Faculty Senate-University Council Committee on Resources, Space and Budgets.

“What we are going to do is to begin an examination and gather data. Instead of just collecting anecdotes, we want to get some hard data to present in Springfield to show that the budget really is having an affect,” said Amy Rose, the chair of the Faculty Senate-University Council Committee on Resources, Space and Budgets.