Gov. John Bel Edwards got a firsthand look Thursday at what overdue maintenance looks like on the Baton Rouge campus of Southern University, especially from evaporating ravines.

The 90-minute tour, led by school leaders, included a stop that features a temporary, uneven bridge that students in nearby residence halls rely on daily.

"Not only is it the only way," Edwards said. "It is unsafe."

Edwards told reporters that the problem spot, rated as the top need on college and university campuses statewide, is not even included in next year's construction budget, which is House Bill 2.

"This is critical," he said. "This is unacceptable. We ought to find a way to fix it."

Shawn Wilson, secretary for the state Department of Transportation and Development, briefed the governor on what has been done to shore up the bridge and surrounding area.

Wilson said the site alone would cost up to $10 million for repairs, and it was just one of 14 on the list of key needs highlighted Thursday.

Chancellor Ray Belton stood in the sunshine and told the governor this is the sort of problem that runs afoul of a physical plant that is conducive to learning.

Sen. Jay Luneau, D-Alexandria, the lone lawmaker on the tour, said the campus trouble spots fly in the face of arguments that improvements can be put off for years.

"My first impression is this is very sad," Luneau said while returning to the small bus that hauled officials around campus.

Many of the problems stem from years of deteriorating ravines, and the lack of state dollars to head off trouble.

The governor walked around the Mississippi River Bluff, where sloughing soil has piled up next to the main sewer line.

"It just gradually started fluffing off," said Eli Guillory III, Facility Planning Director for the Southern University System and leader of the tour.

Ravine failure is also evident across from the Southern University Law Center.

The same is obvious near the Student Health Center.

Ravine soil erosion and the failure of a storm drainage system is threatening the collapse of a parking lot next to multiple student apartments.

The issues are similar to those that have plagued campuses statewide for years.

State aid for higher education has been slashed for the past seven years.

At the same time, the list of capital improvements on colleges and universities has grown, with no sweeping solutions on the horizon.

A week earlier Edwards toured Middleton Library on the LSU campus, which is plagued with problems and has changed little in the past 40 years.

The governor and his entourage also stopped at John Fisher Hall, which was built in 1953.

Needs include mechanical system repairs, electrical lighting and other upgrades.

Belton called the building one of the most troubled on campus.

"So you were holding classes  here just a few weeks ago, and this is what the room looks like?" an incredulous Edwards asked.

Other key problem spots include W. W. Stewart Hall, built in 1971 and marked by an aging mechanical, electrical lighting, power and plumbing systems; James Lee Hall, built in 1962 and the Health Research Center, erected in 1986.

The later two facilities suffer from electrical and other problems.

The governor told reporters the bridge and other shortcomings stem from disinvestment in higher education.

"And where they impact student safety we have an obligation to rectify the problems very quickly," he said. 

"We are going to get to work and try to find a solution for the most pressing problems," Edwards said. 

"We are not going to be able to fix everything you see today," he added. "But those things that are most pressing we are going to work very hard to find a solution."

The governor and House leaders have been embroiled in disagreements for months on whether and how to raise new dollars for higher education and other services.

In addition, this year's construction budget bills are embroiled in controversy because of disputes over revenue and spending.

   

Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.