Opinions

OPINION: Alaska is chipping away at its deferred maintenance backlog

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The Wildwood Corrections Complex in Kenai needs security fencing upgrades and a new phone system; the Mat-Su Pretrial Facility needs the slider doors fixed. The state medical examiner’s office in the Anchorage public health lab needs a fire alarm panel replacement. There are armory projects in Kodiak and Ketchikan and bunkhouse overhauls needed in Bethel and Emmonak. The list of upgrades needed in state facilities is robust. These projects, and many others will be completed due to the steady stream of deferred maintenance funding that the state received in the FY23 budget.

The State of Alaska has more than 1,800 structures in its inventory, including armories, ferry terminals, hangers, sheds, sand storage buildings and yes, offices. And they are spread throughout the state — from Homer to Haines and Kivalina to King Cove. As these facilities age, the need for additional maintenance increases to keep them in good working order. We’ve all seen it in the houses in which we live, or the buildings in which we work.

It is the state’s responsibility to safeguard and protect state-owned property. This means performing maintenance, operation, repairs, utilities, security and any other owner responsibilities until the property is no longer owned by the state.

Why defer the maintenance? Much like any property owner, the state’s to-do list often exceeds available resources. We must plan repairs and upgrades over some period of time. Like any property owner, unexpected circumstances may even bump planned upgrades further out on the schedule. For these reasons, it’s important to keep a steady stream in deferred maintenance funding over many years to address life cycle issues.

Recently there has been some criticism over the level of deferred maintenance approved in the FY23 budget — even though it is at the historic normal level. Gov. Mike Dunleavy initially proposed $42.1 million, and the final budget ended up higher, at $45.7 million — an additional $23 million supplemental appropriation was signed into law but effective for the previous fiscal year, FY22. The FY23 budget gives us the funding we need to address our high-priority needs and matches the capacity we need to execute these projects.

Why not even go with an even higher level of funding? Great question. Right now, the marketplace is under a great deal of stress with inflation, supply chain issues and an exceedingly tight labor market. We’re cautious about overextending what we can execute, and we certainly don’t want our investment gobbled up by an unexpected surge in building material prices. We are applying a measured approach — repair and replace what is needed this year and plan for future needs.

This summer we are constructing several needed upgrades, including the Ketchikan Pioneer Home Structural Upgrades for the Alaska Department of Health, the Bethel Hangar and Office Improvements, for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, replacing the Yakutat boilers and making electrical upgrades at the Atwood Building in Anchorage for Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

In FY22, the State of Alaska consolidated the management of many of our state-owned structures in the Division of Facility Services (DFS). Housed in the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. DFS includes Statewide Public Facilities (Design and Construction), Maintenance and Operations, and Statewide Leasing. We’re working on the effectiveness and efficiency issues that come with such a consolidation, and looking for ways to maximize service to our partner agencies, and with our private sector partners, keep quality upgrades coming for years to come. With a steady, reliable stream of deferred maintenance funding like what was in FY23, we should be able to upgrade our buildings, and extend the life of the state’s facilities.

Ryan Anderson, P.E., is the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.

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