Money isn't MUN's only problem: infrastructure woes reveal safety concerns
Leaks, cracks, fading facade, makeshift fixes among the issues plaguing buildings
MUN's aging infrastructure problems aren't simply cosmetic — as evidenced by MUN's vice-president of academic Noreen Golfman's recent description of the institution as a "pathetic, physical plant."
As the university grapples with less money from the province to operate, CBC News got an up-close look during a tour at some of the safety issues plaguing MUN's buildings.
One trouble spot is a massive concrete mural over the main entrance to the education building.
"We're having pieces fall off," said Jeff Boland, Director of Operations and Maintenance, Department of Facilities Management.
"As a precautionary measure, over each entrance to the building we've put a wooden porch, a canopy. Just so that when people are going in and out of the building, if something should fall off, then at least the patrons of the building are protected," said Boland.
A dramatic fix is also needed at an entrance to the main science building.
Water leaking in through the building's exterior wall is diverted and collected using temporary chutes made of tarps, plastic, duct tape and garbage buckets — and it's been like that for over three years.
"We're just trying to direct it out of the way, to a point where it's not raining down on anybody, or not really creating a safety hazard," said Boland.
"We're forced into doing something in the short term to ensure safety ... But we don't have the money to do the permanent fixes that we need to do," said Boland.
"We're faced with a significant problem."
The university currently takes money allocated for other things to pay for these health and safety fixes.
Multi-million dollar fixes
A complete overhaul of education building's exterior is needed — work similar in scope to the facade renovation on the exterior of Confederation Building.
An optimistic estimate puts the price of the facelift at about $25 million.
Similar work is needed on the the chemistry-physics building, too.
The hallway leading to the president's office is peppered with square and rectangle patchwork covers of various sizes, over cracks in the plaster on the walls.
The cracks are covered with a plastic membrane in order to enclose the asbestos in the plaster to prevent it from going airborne.
"It's a temporary fix. The permanent fix would be to shut down this area, to scrape all the walls and get the plaster material off and put a different coating on there," said Boland.
It's estimated it would take about $500 million, or in that range, to repair MUN's infrastructure.
"We're talking about the quality and condition of facilities where young people come to learn and get educated," said Boland.
The university's aging buildings in St. John's, Harlow and the Marine Institute is a small piece of the infrastructure pie.
The campus in St. John's is a city within a city, meaning MUN is responsible for water and sewer mains, street paving, fire hydrant flushing, and sidewalk/curb and street light repairs.
While Newfoundland Power provides electricity to the university's substation,it's MUN that is responsible for the high voltage distribution to all the buildings including the Health Sciences Centre.
That's in addition to MUN's Utilities Annex, which also delivers heating water to numerous campus buildings and to the Health Sciences Centre.