UH tries to attack $487 million construction backlog

UH tries to attack $487 million construction backlog
Steve Meder, UH Manoa's acting assistant vice chancellor
Steve Meder, UH Manoa's acting assistant vice chancellor

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii officials told lawmakers Friday they need extra staff to help attack a nearly half billion dollar backlog of deferred maintenance projects at ten campuses statewide.

Outdated and deteriorated facilities spread across the UH system, evidence of 40 years of neglect.

During a budget briefing before the Senate and House higher education committees Friday, UH Board of Regents Vice Chair James Lee read from a recent assessment of the flagship Manoa campus.

"There is a sense of neglect across the campus.  The current state of campus facilities is not commensurate with the expectations of the university, a premiere research institution," Lee said.

The deferred maintenance backlog on UH's 10 campuses is about $487 million and UH wants to eliminate 30 percent of the backlog in three years and erase it altogether in a decade.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie is requesting $197 million to attack that backlog in the next year, financed with bonds borrowed against students' tuition money.

"If you give us more money to try to take care of the deferred maintenance backlog, without the personnel to do it, we're dead.  You're destining us for failure," said Tom Katsuyoshi, director of UH's Office of Facilities Management.

UH officials told lawmakers they need to hire 19 more contract officers, architects, engineers and others to manage these projects, costing more than $1.2 million a year.  Abercrombie's  proposed budget did not include that money.

"If we don't have the resources, the human resources, this money is a prescription for failure," said Steve Meder, UH Manoa's acting assistant vice chancellor for planning and facilities.

Katsuyoshi said, "We have been undermanned for so long that we are at the point of drowning, basically."

UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple said his 320-acre campus has 93 fewer groundskeepers, janitors, plumbers and maintenance personnel than it needs, running about 25 percent short.

"And that ends of leading to more deferred maintenance because we're not fixing things immediately and that blossoms into a problem," Apple told lawmakers.

So UH is asking for $1.4 million to hire 22 new maintenance workers.

Lawmakers challenged UH to do better.

"Lingering management problems plague the university and to continue the status quo will lead to a mediocre university," said State House Higher Education Chair Isaac Choy. "There are more requests for more buildings, new programs, more positions. I submit to you that bigger is not better.  Better is better and let's strive for that."

Lawmakers encouraged UH to contract out construction management positions which can be filled more quickly in the private sector than at the state.

State Rep. Calvin Say pointed out the funds for new positions will not become available until July.

"Then HR (human resources) has to go and develop the qualifications of the personnel, correct?  That's going to take you six to seven months.  So one year is already gone," Say said.

UH officials said they are already hiring consultants to manage some construction projects.

"We also need people in house because if you have more consultants out there, we need more people in house that they are responding to, that they are reporting to," Meder told Say.

On another issue, State Budget Director Kalbert Young said a new building for UH Hilo's School of Pharmacy is virtually the state's top priority construction project.

UH Hilo Chancellor Don Straney told Choy the three-year-old pharmacy school's accreditation is in jeopardy if construction doesn't get underway in the next year.

Choy: If you don't get financing for the pharmacy school, is the pharmacy school on life support?

Straney:  Accreditation is in jeopardy.

Choy: So we have to do something by when?

Straney: By this year.

Choy: We have to do something by this year.

The governor is proposing $28 million to build a new building for the  pharmacy school, which is now spread among portable classrooms at UH Hilo.  The project has been reduced from three stories to two to save money.

The school has about 360 students.

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