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BATON ROUGE - Wires hanging out of the ceilings, makeshift air-conditioning units, and water damaged classrooms have left many buildings at Southern University in Baton Rouge resembling condemned structures. Administrators fear the enormous maintenance backlog is driving students away.

"The students are a different breed these days," said Vice Chancellor of Finance Benjamin Pugh in a recent interview. "They want the best of what a school can offer, and if you don't have it then it affects enrollment negatively because they will go somewhere else."

The Baton Rouge campus of Southern University has about a $150 million backlog, according the Louisiana Division of Administration. That's equal to the entire maintenance backlog at all state community colleges combined.

Southern University officials said the backlog has been a mounting problem due to years of state budget cuts. "When you have either a leaky skylight or a leaky roof, there's small spot you see on day one but ten years later that spot is as big as the whole room," said Henry Thurman, head of Southern's maintenance department.

Last spring, state lawmakers appropriated $1.7 million for maintenance, a drop in the bucket compared to the total backlog at the campus. However, it was a huge increase compared to past years.

Pugh said the money was used to repair some leaky roofs. "We are optimistic the funding provided this year will continue or be increased," he said.

That could be wishful thinking. In February, Governor John Bel Edwards' administration announced it didn't intend to fund maintenance backlogs at any state university or college because of low tax collections.

Pugh said he hopes lawmakers will amend the governor's plan and keep funding projects at the Baton Rouge campus, otherwise he fears less students will attend.

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