Ontario’s colleges and universities are getting $200 million to help tackle some $1.6 billion in “unglamorous” repairs to leaky roofs, old sewage systems and safety railings, the province’s minister of training, colleges and universities announced Tuesday.
While critics called the cash a “drop in the bucket,” Minister John Milloy said the money is just the beginning of help for the province’s aging institutions.
“This is an ongoing story. We’re going to continue to work with the sector to make sure that their needs are addressed,” Milloy said following the announcement at George Brown College in Toronto.
“This is a very, very important step, $200 million is a significant amount of money and it’s going to go a long way to improving facilities across the province.”
The money, which was announced in the recent fall economic statement, will be used to make facilities more energy efficient, improve campus safety and fix aging classrooms, labs and libraries. Some $75 million will be spent in the Greater Toronto Area while the rest will be doled out to institutions across Ontario.
The cash comes after Ontario’s auditor general said universities need some $1.6 billion to fix crumbling facilities which are nearing the end of their lifetime and have suffered after years of deferred maintenance.
David Naylor, president of the University of Toronto, said the long list of necessary repairs, which includes improvements to sewer pipes, aren’t glamorous ones, but are vital to a campus where some of the buildings are more than 100 years old.
“No one is going to get up and make a high-profile announcement about the diameter of the stack running into the sewer system,” said Naylor. “But you get that wrong and you’ve got a rather large problem . . . Most of the funding here will go to things that are unobtrusive but that actually let us get on with doing work to make life better on campus that otherwise would be tough to fund.”
Paul Genest, president of the Council of Ontario Universities, pleaded the case for more money Monday before a legislative pre-budget committee. The cash announced Tuesday doesn’t come close to $1.6 billion, but it’s five times what universities normally get each year for repairs and maintenance, he said.
“It is more than a shot in the arm,” Genest said. “It’s octane fuel for the university sector so we’re just thrilled.”
Anne Sado, president of George Brown College, said the money is welcome given most colleges are celebrating their 40th anniversary, and their facilities are showing their age. Colleges likely need about $150 million a year for repairs and necessary upgrades, she said.
“We’re aging and we need some renewal,” said Sado, adding colleges like George Brown have never had such high demand. “We need to support growth.”
But critics say handing out money in dribs and drabs isn’t doing post-secondary institutions any favours.
Conservative Jim Wilson said Tuesday’s announcement is just part of a “patchwork effort” to address the real concerns expressed by Ontario colleges and universities.
“It’s a drop in the bucket,” Wilson said. “It’s one-time money and it won’t go very far.”
New Democrat Peter Kormos said colleges and universities are “decaying” and the governing Liberals aren’t doing anything to fix the problem.
“If only the funding were as significant as the fanfare that’s been attached to the announcement,” Kormos said. “It’s imperative that our colleges and universities be competitive internationally. We’re not going to achieve that unless the provincial government steps up to the plate.”
– With a report from Canadian Press