Money isn't MUN's only problem: infrastructure woes reveal safety concerns

Memorial University's infrastructure is aging and deteriorating and will cost in the range of half a billion dollars to repair.

Leaks, cracks, fading facade, makeshift fixes among the issues plaguing buildings

Water leaks through some buildings and tunnels at the Memorial University's campus in St. John's. (submitted photo)

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.

Memorial's Jeff Boland says canopies were placed at the entrance to the education building to protect patrons, in case something fell off. (Cec Haire/CBC)

"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.

Memorial owns 80 buildings at its campus in St. John's, one of them, a warehouse is condemned and sits empty. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

A dramatic fix is also needed at an entrance to the main science building.

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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.

MUN infrastructure

7 years ago
Duration 3:13
Jeff Boland, Acting Director of Operations & Maintenance at Memorial, spoke with the CBC's Cecil Haire about MUN's aging infrastructure problems.

"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.

Chutes made out of tarps, plastic and duct tape direct rain water into garbage buckets at an entrance to Memorial University's science building. (Cec Haire/CBC)

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 exterior of the education building at MUN's St. John's campus is over 50 years old and needs to be replaced. (Cec Haire/CBC)

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. 

Big picture 

It's estimated it would take about $500 million, or in that range, to repair MUN's infrastructure.

Plastic patches are taped over cracks in the plaster in the halls in MUN's arts and administration building in order to keep asbestos particles from going airborne.

"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.

MUN says some long-term fixes are needed. (Cec Haire/CBC)

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.

MUN is responsible for its own pavement and sidewalk repairs. (Cec Haire/CBC)

That's in addition to MUN's Utilities Annex, which also delivers heating water to numerous campus buildings and to the Health Sciences Centre.