Maintenance at McGill

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McGill Reporter
October 9, 2003 - Volume 36 Number 03
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Maintenance at McGill

Walk around campus and the changes might not be immediately noticeable. Yet extensive ones have happened.

McGill has invested nearly $8 million in deferred maintenance over the last year, repairing everything from leaky roofs and basement foundations to replacing drafty windows and old chillers (mammoth roof-top units that provide central air conditioning).

McGill's continuing tally for deferred maintenance is a whopping $165 million. "It's not sexy. It's not glamorous work. But it has to be done to support the basic infrastructure required to support the teaching and research missions of the university," stresses Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Morty Yalovsky.

"We've borrowed nearly $38 million (for renovations) over the past four years," he adds, noting delayed upgrades were estimated to be $185 million in 1999. "We still need to spend about $10 million per year. For every two steps we take, in reality, we're only making one step since we're so behind in repairs."

Given that many of McGill's buildings are heritage sites, Yalovsky would like the Quebec government to fund several deferred maintenance projects. Over the past four years, under $4 million, or less than one third of one percent of the current asset value of our buildings, has been provided by the government.

So the University borrowed to undertake critical work, including repairs to correct the leaky foundations of Wilson Hall. "We didn't realize the extent of the foundation damage," says Yalovsky, noting he is relieved the building's basement is now dry.

A portion of the deferred maintenance envelope was used to provide one very noticeable improvement for 2003: the stunning new plaza at Tomlinson TechSquare, a scientific hub comprising the Wong Building, Trottier Building, Stathcona Anatomy and Dentistry Building, Rutherford Physics Building and 740 Dr. Penfield. The former parking lot was completely revamped as a pedestrian square following the addition of 740 Dr. Penfield and the Trottier Building. Asphalt and fenders have been replaced by ferns, trees, grass and beautiful cobblestoned walkways.

Other upgrades included chillers — hidden assets that provide for ventilation of a building which help faculty, staff and students cope with summer heat — on the Duff Medical Building and, soon, on the Otto Maas Chemistry Building. The total cost of those two projects is substantial: $2.8 million.

If chillers save us from sweating, the university also invested to make sure we don't burn. About $500,000 was invested to upgrade key fire alarms.

Then drafty old windows were replaced in the Macdonald-Harrington Engineering Building. Thanks to the new panes, the structure not only looks better, but will be easier to heat in winters.

Several leaky roofs were also refurbished on five of McGill's greystones on Peel, University and Pine Streets. As well, the roof of Ferrier was repaired.

Other projects include the overhaul of the lobby of the James Administration Building. Major renovations were also completed in the Ferrier Building by transforming two floors of industrial space used by Facilities Management into offices for the Accounting Department, thereby freeing up space for student services and Academic Administration in the James Building.

"Deferred maintenance work has been completed by priority," says Yalovsky, noting that despite its drafty and rotting windows, as well as crumbling plaster in stairwells, the James Building will not undergo any further work until more urgent projects are addressed.

Two vital and expensive projects that remain are the overhaul of the university's power grid and underground water system. McGill intends to strengthen its power system first, since the addition of new buildings and labs will eventually overtax its electrical network.

Late last month, for instance, most of the lower campus lost power one day from 4 am to 7 am due to downed Hydro Québec lines. "Our internal network was not the source of the problem, and the planned upgrade will provide comfort so we will have sufficient energy sources in the future" says Yalovsky. "Without power we can't operate."

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