Physically impossible

By Jake Miller

Due to budget cuts of $400,000 in the past five years — 5 percent of the total operating budget — the Physical Plant cannot keep up with the demanding work load put upon its shoulders.

The inability to keep up with routine maintenance, due to a lack of personnel and funding, has led to a campus-wide situation where maintenance, along with special projects, is not completed within a set time-frame.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series looking into NIU’s Physical Plant and the funding and response times to projects on campus. The second part will run in Tuesday’s Northern Star.

Faculty Gripes

After several years of seeing the time-frame for job completion increasing, faculty, such as Andy Small, lab manager of the chemistry department, wants to see the University Council take action.

Small feels something must be done because the “academic mission” has been affected.

“We need to take a look at how we can get our message to either the administration for a re-allocation of funds or look to a legislative resolution,” Small said.

Small has noticed a lack of maintenance needed to keep the facilities in prime condition.

“Preventive maintenance has become almost non-existent while work is being done on things that are already broken,” Small said. “We have pushed finances of each department down and the head count of the Physical Plant that we need to say ‘that’s enough.'”

Although Small feels something needs to be done, he does not blame the Physical Plant.

“I have found the Physical Plant to be very accommodating, but their resources have been cut to the point where it has affected the finances of each department and the efficiency of each work order,” Small said.

Money and Staff

“We’ve been dealing with budget cuts for a long time. We went from a peak of about 95 workers to around 85, which is not a terrible drop,” said Bob Albanese, associate vice president for Finance and Facilities. “Yet, with the addition of more buildings, the workload demand has gone up.”

With more buildings and less staff, Mike Saari, associate director of the Physical Plant, emphasized the need to prioritize work orders.

“Due to staff levels, response time is greater and we have had to redistribute work order priorities with life/safety being number one,” Saari said.

NIU has not had to layoff employees. Instead, when personnel retired, they were not immediately replaced, which has led to a diminishing work force.

Small, who is committed to finding a solution to the problem, said he feels this is a positive aspect.

“We have not cut head count like other universities. The president made a promise not to have layoffs and he hasn’t while other universities have,” Small said. “The president needs to be applauded for this.”

The Physical Plant was obliged to comply with a university wide hiring-freeze, but recently they have been given the approval to start hiring again.

“We finally got the go ahead to start ramping up each area by one head which will help tremendously with the work load,” Albanese said.

Saari agreed things are looking brighter now that the department has been given the go ahead to hire several new employees.

“I believe we’ll be able to respond quicker to the problems that have been out there within the next few months,” he said.

Check Tuesday’s Northern Star to find out what is being done and how work orders are prioritized.