Lack of funding leads to issues in Kedzie Hall, other campus buildings

Outside Kedzie Hall on Oct. 12, 2021. (Deborah Adeniji l Collegian Media Group)

At the beginning of the fall 2021 semester, a structural engineer assessed the sloping floors on the second level of Kedzie Hall on Kansas State’s campus to determine if they were safe to walk on.

Nick Homburg, professor of practice in the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications, said the floors began to bother people in the building.

“We were just a little concerned because when doors don’t shut anymore, and you can literally feel the floor go down under your feet, it’s concerning,” Homburg said.

Casey Lauer, assistant vice president of facilities at K-State, shared the engineer’s findings.

“We had a qualified structural engineer evaluate Kedzie … and there are no structural issues,” Lauer said.

While the engineers determined the building is sound, leaks in the roof also cause issues in Kedzie. Dr. Steven Smethers, director of JMC, said leaks are an ongoing issue.

“We have constant leaks over here,” Smethers said. “We’re always dealing with leaks. Whenever we have torrential rainfall, we always have leaks up on the second floor in the new part of the building.”

According to K-State’s website, Kedzie Hall was built in the late 1890s, and Smethers said the south part was added in 1951. Yet, both the new and old sections of the building leak.

Homburg said during a series of several thunderstorms, he was sitting in his office when something caught his attention in the classroom across the hallway.

“I’m hearing what sounds like water dripping, and as I cross the hall, there was water seeping out into the hallway, and I walked in and could see the water coming through the tiles, so I pushed a bunch of buckets under it,” Homburg said. “No more did I get the last garbage can in place, and the ceiling tile collapsed.”

Homburg said the Division of Facilities responded quickly to the scene.

“Facilities was here that same day, as a matter of fact, within minutes, and they’re squeegeeing stuff out and brought in dryers,” Homburg said. “The roof company was up there the next day, and they spent two days up there fixing it.”

To help repair and maintain buildings on campus, Ethan Erickson, chief financial officer and interim chief operating officer at K-State, said the state provides the Educational Building Fund. A mill levy on property taxes in the state finances the fund. The state then distributes monies to each university governed by the Kansas Board of Regents.

“Here at K-State … we’ll dedicate a share of those dollars to deferred maintenance needs across the campus to try to address that,” Erickson said.

Lauer explained what is meant by the term deferred maintenance.

“It’s maintenance that is ongoing because, for various circumstances, there weren’t available resources to deal with it in a timeframe that industry prescribes us to,” Lauer said. “It’s essentially maintenance that’s been deferred to a later date.”

Lauer said the university uses deferred maintenance for anything in a building, from HVAC systems to the stone walls of a building.

While the funding from the state helps lighten the need for deferred maintenance, Erickson said it is not enough to address all the maintenance issues on K-State’s campus.

“There’s never enough funding, no matter whether it comes from the state, whether it’s from potentially our federal partners that we might be able to apply for dollars for particular initiatives to update space, whether it’s from our donors who are also fantastic partners in this … whether it’s our own internal resources,” Erickson said. “It’s a balancing act we have across all those different flavors of money that help us address our deferred maintenance across the board.”

Greg Willems, president and CEO of Kansas State University Foundation, said the Foundation does engage with donors about funding for building repairs on campus. However, he said it is important to remember that it is up to the donors regarding where their money goes.

“Donors always have the final say, kind of, of what they’re going to choose to care about — how they want to change the world, how they want to impact students, faculty or this institution,” Willems said.

Willems also said in the fiscal year 2021, over $17 million out of more than $155 million raised by the KSU Foundation went to facilities. Willems said the three most significant projects those funds went to were the Morris Family Multicultural Student Center, the McCain Auditorium remodeling and the Hale Library renovation.

“In general, probably the lion’s share of those resources were for what I’d consider new construction,” Willems said.

While donors are funding many projects on campus, Smethers said he believes the state is the most responsible for the deferred maintenance issues at K-State.

“What you’re really talking about here is an issue that’s much larger than Kedzie Hall,” Smethers said. “You’re talking about a campus where buildings have gone unrepaired for years, and we’ve nothing [but] bad budgets from Topeka really since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here twenty years.”

Erickson also said many buildings need to be maintained on K-State’s campus.

“I think it’s important to understand that we’ve got about 181 mission-critical buildings, but about 529 facilities in total,” Erickson said. “So, lots of square footage, lots of need across the institution in relation to deferred maintenance and daily upkeep on those facilities. So, it’s a big, big enterprise that we’re running to then find creative ways to address our deferred maintenance needs.”

While deferred maintenance does postpone repairing a building until sometime in the future, Erickson said it is not indefinite.

“It’s just kind of like your home,” Erickson said. “If you’ve got a roof that needs repair or work, eventually you’ve got to address it at some point, and it’s just like your home budget, right? With the limited resources that we have, you have to prioritize amongst all your spending needs, but eventually, that roof has to be replaced at some point.”

While maintenance issues at Kedzie have been deferred to a later date, Lauer said the Division of Facilities is keeping an eye on the building.

“Kedzie is on our long-term radar,” Lauer said. “However, we do have other, more pressing needs with respect to the condition of roofs and taking on water in some other locations that, from a priority standpoint, wouldn’t raise Kedzie to the top of that list just yet.”

Presently, Willems said he is not aware of any donor-funded projects to help with repairs in Kedzie. However, with KSU Foundation’s success in attracting matching funds for programs such as the K-State Family Scholarship Program, a new initiative has been started to renovate classrooms on campus.

“We’ve introduced to our trustees, recently, an initiative to try to attract matching dollars for renovating classrooms,” Willems said, “So, we are working on this initiative. We have over 276 classrooms that have been identified by the campus. We believe we can attract some matching funds to do renovations of those that would be matched by other donors.”

Willems said it is up to university leadership to choose which classrooms will receive repairs.

“We’re working with our campus leadership to identify priority classrooms and how we would start to systematically start renovating those classroom spaces over time,” Willems said.

In the meantime, Smethers believes the issues in Kedzie Hall are not conducive to recruiting new students to the School of Journalism.

“We’re not in any terrible trouble,” Smethers said. “We’re not falling apart, and yet, at the same time, it’s very tough for us to try to recruit to a building that’s in this condition.”

Before the issues in Kedzie get out of hand, Homburg said he hopes something can change to fix them. Yet, he is uncertain how that will happen.

“It’s a story that needs to be told, but I don’t know how to get beyond funding and frustration,” Homburg said.