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Utah Legislature: U. seeks funds to keep campus from crumbling

SALT LAKE CITY — Like most state agencies, the University of Utah is asking lawmakers for money.

However, the $15 million it is seeking for critical infrastructure needs is necessary to keep the school from further deterioration, at least for the time being, officials said.

"We are at a crisis here," U. President Michael K. Young told the Capital Facilities and Government Operations Appropriations Subcommittee Monday.

He said that in June 2009, 65 buildings on campus were without heat and hot water for days due to a line break. In January, 44 buildings suffered the same fate for four days.

In the past two years, 22 electrical outages have left parts of the university without power for more than 300 hours total, and in 2009, the school witnessed 105 days without heat. Some of those came during colder months, but the majority happened in June.

Young said such conditions are unacceptable for the high-caliber institution he's running.

"In these circumstances and with this infrastructure, I cannot continue to do what we've been doing," he said.

Trouble is, funding for operation and management of state-funded buildings is set the year they are completed, and 144 of the U.'s 243 buildings were built before 1970, meaning the state is shelling out enough to power the buildings back then, but not enough to run them now.

Cory Higgins, director of plant operations at the U., said that two weeks ago the high-temperature water distribution pipes at the school were losing up to 30,000 gallons of heated and treated water each day. Short-term repairs, of which there have already been four this year, have cut the loss to 10,000 gallons a day, but with the pipes continuing to age, more severe breaks are imminent.

The 18 miles of metal pipe, buried sometime in the 1960s, need to be replaced, he said. The cost to the state would be $5 million.

A $10 million request to build a new power substation, he said, would help alleviate some of the problems that have developed over the years.

U. officials weren't asking the committee for any funding to build new buildings, only money to sustain the old, and as the oldest university in the system, Young said the school is deserving of that.

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com