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COVID-19 further delayed and increased NIU’s $500+ million delayed maintenance backlog

Northern Illinois University
Jenna Dooley
Northern Illinois University

During the Illinois budget impasse – public universities like Northern Illinois University didn’t have the money to keep up with maintenance projects. The backlog at NIU ballooned to half a billion dollars by 2019. That year, Gov. Pritzker signed the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan -- which devoted billions to make those repairs.

In the three years since the state’s capital plan passed, NIU’s deferred maintenance backlog hasn’t shrunk -- now it’s even higher than half a billion. John Heckmann says that’s largely due to the pandemic. He’s NIU’s Associate Vice President for facilities management and campus services.

He says fiscal uncertainty and safety concerns further delayed their delayed maintenance projects.

“It's an accumulation of a lot of things. Some of that could be very minor things, cracks in the sidewalk and that sort of thing. Would you like to repair it? Yes, but is that going to be your priority? Probably not, unless it's a tripping hazard,” he said. “But then you'll have things like roof repairs. We have roofs that are at the end of their life showing signs of starting to leak already or getting close to that point.”

But Heckmann’s optimistic they’ll be cutting into the maintenance backlog over the next year.

“The top projects, a lot of times, boil down to what we refer to as water infiltration issues and roofs are a prime example,” he said.

He says NIU has several roofs that need replacing. They’ve recently had to do emergency repairs at Swen Parsons Hall and the Music Building to keep water out.

And NIU’s not the only school to delay maintenance. In 2019, state facilities and education institutions had a $24 billion maintenance backlog. That number is likely higher now, but Heckmann is confident because, this time, the money for repairs there, and will go to good use -- like keeping water out of classrooms -- soon.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.