Office of the Controller

Guidance on Capitalizing Building Projects and Renovations



This document provides guidance on the capitalization and depreciation of costs to acquire, build, renovate and maintain University owned buildings.

In addition, guidance is provided on the process of componentizing capital expenses related to research buildings which are included in Columbia’s indirect cost proposal.  Componentization of expenses allows the University to more accurately match the annual depreciation of building additions, thereby accelerating recovery of building depreciation costs through the F&A rate. 



The Office of the Controller is responsible for:


(1)   Providing guidance to Facilities on the building costs capitalization process.

(2)   Providing guidance to Facilities on costs that should be classified as repairs and maintenance.

(3)   Providing Facilities with a list of ARC accounts which require annual componentization.

(4)   Providing guidance to Facilities on the componentization processes. 

(5)   Performing the annual calculation of componentized depreciation for ICR buildings.

(6)   Performing the annual calculation of depreciation for non-ICR buildings.


The Facilities Management Offices (CUMC, Morningside and Lamont) are responsible for:


(1)   Ensuring that all costs related to FIN 47 environmental liabilities are segregated to the appropriate account to ensure they are not considered in the capitalization of building additions.

(2)   Ensuring that all operational expenses are related to a renovation or betterment project (i.e. cost of shuttle buses to transport students to a temporary location while construction is in progress or temporary walkways while construction ongoing).

(3)   Ensuring that componentization is applied consistently from building to building and year to year.

(4)   Discussing new/unforeseen issues with the Office of the Controller in a timely manner,


Capitalization of Costs


The following guidance relates to all University buildings.  

(1) Costs associated with building acquisitions and new constructions

Costs to be capitalized associated with building acquisition that should be included in the original cost of land include , but are not limited to:

- Original contract or purchase price
- Brokers' commissions
- Closing fees, such as title search, and legal fees
- Real estate surveys
- Grading, filling, draining, clearing
- Demolition costs (e.g., razing of an old building)
- Assumption of liens or mortgages

Costs associated with building acquisition or constructions that are included in the original capital cost of the building include but are not limited to:

- Original contract price of construction
- Expenses incurred in remodeling, reconditioning, or altering a purchased building to make it available for its intended purpose

- Relocation of non-University facilities
- Excavation, grading or filling land
- Design and supervision costs
- Building permits
- Legal and architectural fees
- Insurance costs during construction phase
- Interest costs during construction of proprietary fund buildings

Cost types NOT to be capitalized. The following are types of expenses that should not be capitalized during the acquisition of a building.

(1)   Cost relating to the removal or demolition of buildings, structures, equipment or other facilities. Three exceptions are as follows:

a.     Cost to remove or demolish a building or other structure existing at the time of acquisition of land with the intention or removal or demolition to accommodate its intended use (such cost is considered part of the land).

b.     Cost to remove or demolish a building or other structure with the intention of replacing the old asset (such costs are considered a part of the cost of the new asset).

c.     Costs  to demolish an existing building will be capitalized if demolition occurs 12 months or more after acquisition.

(2)   Cost incurred on assets that are not purchased, e.g., surveying, title searches, legal fees, and other expert services on land not purchased.

(3)   Extraordinary costs incidental to the construction of capital assets such as those due to strike, flood, fire or other casualties.

(4)   Cost of abandoned construction.

(2) Costs subsequent to asset acquisitions (improvements or betterments)


In order for a particular renovation or betterment project to be capitalized it must satisfy three criteria:


(1)   The project must exceed $50,000, and

(2)   It must add value to the component, and

(3)   It must extend the useful life of the component.


Non-Capital Building Costs (repairs and maintenance)


If a project does not satisfy the criteria above, it is not eligible for capitalization and should not have a CAPTL PC Business Unit.  Some example of projects that would not be eligible for componentization include:


·         Parts, labor and other related costs to repair to normal operating condition, and realize their originally anticipated useful life.

·         Preventative maintenance, maintenance contracts, janitorial services, window washing, and extermination services.

·         Adding, removing and/or moving of walls relating to renovation projects that are not considered major rehabilitation projects and do not increase the value of the building

·         Improvement projects of minimal or no added life expectancy and/or value to the building

·         Plumbing or electrical repairs

·         Cleaning, pest extermination, or other periodic maintenance

·         Interior decoration, such as draperies, blinds, curtain rods, wallpaper

·         Exterior decoration, such as detachable awnings, uncovered porches, decorative fences, etc.

·         Maintenance-type interior renovation, such as repainting, touch-up plastering, replacement of carpet, tile, or  panel sections; sink and fixture refinishing, etc.

·         Maintenance-type exterior renovation such as repainting, replacement of deteriorated siding, roof, or masonry sections

·         Any other maintenance-related expenditures which do not increase the value of a building or increase the useful life of the building


Componentization of building costs in ICR Buildings


According to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and cost principles set forth in OMB Circular A-21, the components of a building (i.e. its Shell, Roof, HVAC and other systems) may be depreciated separately over each component’s estimated useful lives.  This accounting treatment allows the University to more accurately match the annual depreciation of building additions and accelerate recovery of building depreciation costs through the F&A rate. 


In September of each year, the Office of the Controller will provide Facilities with a link to an access database form used to collect componentization of the prior fiscal year’s construction activity. 



Component Description


Types of Expenses

Est Useful Life



Telecommunication and alarm wiring, lighting fixtures, electrical conduit, wire, cables, circuits, switches, and controls within the perimeter of the building that provide power for all electrical apparatuses and lighting instruments.




Comprised of the elevator and escalator conveyance systems including controls.


Fixed Equipment


Includes any equipment other than equipment comprised of the HVAC system, electrical system, fire protection system, plumbing system or elevator system that is installed and permanently attached to some part of the building's structure. Examples include built-in lab equipment and fume hoods.


General Construction


The basic construction components such as foundation wall, interior foundations, slab on ground, framing, plazas, exterior walls and floor structure.  Also, up-front costs such as general conditions, architect fees, legal expenses, etc.




Includes the chillers, condensers, exhaust fans and coil units, heating strips, chilled/heating water supply and return piping, air ducts, registers, climate control panels and all circuitry connected to the power supply panel.


Interior Construction


Includes all walls, partitions, ceilings and millwork that are inside the building shell walls. This will include, but is not limited to, all framework, interior doors, interior windows, sheet rock, paneling, paint and any other wall and ceiling coverings.


Life Safety & Controls


Features such as emergency generators, intrusion alarm systems, electric doors, fire escapes, public address systems, etc.




Includes all piping, drains, fixtures, and associated equipment within the perimeter of the building used for moving domestic water, other fluid gases, compressed air or sewage.


Roof & Drainage


Includes the covering material used to establish the water barrier on the building's roof deck. The roof covering starts with the first membrane above the roof decking material including the urethane layer, coating, shingles, films, metal panels, clay tiles and all material installed above the roof deck.


Site Preparation


Clearing, grading, installing public utilities, etc.



“Soft Costs”


Soft Costs consist of those costs that are directly relate to the completion of the construction/renovation project, but do not correlate directly to the stated list of components.  Examples of Soft Costs include: Project Management Fees, Guard Service, Soft Costs should be allocated proportionally to the components based on the assignment of the hard costs.


Upfront Segregation of Certain Expenses:


The following expenses related to building improvement and betterment projects are not eligible for capitalization as part of the building and therefore must be segregated to the appropriate account ranges:


Capital Equipment – All movable equipment with a unit cost of $5000 or more and a useful life of 2 or more years should be charged to an account in the 680XX series.  These items will be capitalized and tracked as movable equipment, not as a component of the building.


FIN 47 Expenses - all costs related to FIN 47 environmental liabilities must be segregated to the appropriate account listed below to ensure they are not considered in the capitalization of building additions





FIN 47 – Asbestos Remediation/HAZMAT


Annual Componentization Process

Perez Cantrell is responsible for the annual componentization process. Any questions directly related to annual componentization can go directly via phone (212) 851-4092 or via e-mail at

David Denmanl (Manager – Capital Asset Accounting) is responsible for coordinating the annual componentization process with building depreciation for the ICR buildings as well as Non-ICR building depreciation. Any questions regarding depreciation issues for both ICR and Non-ICR buildings can be directed via phone (212) 851-7329 or via e-mail at