Temple addresses Auditor General’s capital improvement plans

Temple University has addressed recommendations regarding capital improvement planning processes about allocating resources and involving community stakeholders

Construction for renovations to Anderson and Gladfelter Halls was part of Temple's capital improvements. | JEREMY ELVAS / FILE

Temple University is addressing recommendations for improving its capital improvement planning process that Pennsylvania Auditor General Timothy DeFoor made in an April 2021 performance audit. 

The audit, conducted from July 2016 through June 2019, insepcted Temple’s employee background checks, sexual harassment training and capital improvement plans, according to a report summarizing the findings of the audit. The Pennsylvania Department of the Auditor General routinely audits people, associations, corporations and public agencies, including Temple, that receive state funding in accordance with the Pennsylvania Code, according to the report. 

Capital improvements are projects that enhance the university’s facilities and infrastructure, according to the audit. The auditor general’s report examined Temple’s major capital projects, including new construction and major renovations to existing buildings, rather than the university’s deferred maintenance projects, which are recurring projects to repair or maintain existing buildings.

To inspect Temple’s capital improvement plan, members of the Department of the Auditor General interviewed the university officials who oversee the planning of major capital projects and assessed the university’s written documentation for capital projects. They also inspected Temple’s 2014 master development plan and reviewed seven capital projects that were underway during the audit period, according to the report. 

The audit found Temple’s decision-making process to assess the need for capital projects follows the best practices outlined by the Government Finance Officers Association, an organization that represents public finance officials throughout the United States and Canada. 

However, documents that outline Temple’s capital project decision-making process lack several key elements, according to the report. Temple has not adequately provided a written policy explaining its full process for designing capital improvement plans through completing projects.

The university did, however, document and execute five of the seven capital projects the auditors reviewed, despite missing documentation for its full capital decision-making process, including stakeholder engagement, reporting, and monitoring requirements, according to the audit. Some of those projects include the renovation of Paley Library and expansion of the Fox School of Business and Management.

The auditor general recommended that Temple revise its capital improvement planning policies to describe its processes for monitoring projects, allocating limited resources among projects, handling changes to the 2014 master development plan and seeking feedback from the public and other stakeholders on project plans, including North Central residents and Philadelphia City Council. 

Reaching out to stakeholders early would help determine if there is support for a project before the university makes significant investments. 

Temple can do more to seek feedback from local residents about its capital projects, said Jacqueline Wiggins, who lives on Page Street near 20th and serves as a committee person for the 32nd Democratic Ward Registered Community Organization, an organization which acts as the community’s voice on zoning, development and land use issues, which includes parts of Temple’s Main Campus.

“I don’t know why Temple University after all this time does not know that it needs to be inclusive of its programs and so forth, so that people in the neighboring community have some input,” Wiggins said.

Judith Robinson, also a committee person for the 32nd Ward who lives on Woodstock Street near Diamond, also believes Temple should seek more community input on its capital improvement decisions, she said.

“Temple needs to build a respectful relationship with the surrounding community,” Robinson said. 

Temple’s facilities management team, which maintains campus spaces and oversees their expenses, is working with a team of the university’s architects, campus planners and designers to assess if any of the university’s current capital improvement policies need to be adjusted to incorporate the audit’s recommendations, said Ken Kaiser, vice president, chief financial officer and treasurer of the university.

When the assessment is complete, they will inform the Office of the University Counsel, an office that provides legal advice to the university, about areas where Temple should incorporate the audit’s recommendations, Kaiser added. 

Temple’s Internal Audits department will be in charge of implementing the audit’s recommendations and will release its own audit with corrective actions for the university to implement, The Temple News reported.

The Department of the Auditor General is pleased that Temple’s administration is working to implement the audit’s recommendations, wrote Gary Miller, the press secretary for the Department of the Auditor General, in an email to The Temple News.

“We’ve not received specific feedback from the community on this issue, but we’re confident that the policy improvements, once implemented, will benefit the university, its stakeholders and the community as a whole,” Miller wrote. 

Kaiser believes the university is on its way to implementing the audit’s first recommendation and has already implemented its second, he said.

“There was only two recommendations, so the first one, you know, we will review our policies, we will adjust them to make them clear to reflect what we’re doing,” Kaiser said. “As far as the second recommendation, we’re already doing it. There’s nothing to change.”

The Department of the Auditor General will conduct a future audit to see if Temple has made progress towards implementing the audit’s recommendations, Miller wrote.

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