UH spending $225K to fix flooding problem at 3-year-old West Oahu campus

Published: Sep. 8, 2015 at 9:24 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 9, 2015 at 7:14 PM HST
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Courtesy: Matthew Ursua
Courtesy: Matthew Ursua
Courtesy: Matthew Ursua
Courtesy: Matthew Ursua

KAPOLEI, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Construction defects may be to blame for the flooding problems at University of Hawaii's West Oahu's campus, which opened just three years ago.  Hawaii News Now has learned taxpayers will have to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars for drainage improvements to stop a persistent flooding threat to the school's library.

Since the campus opened in 2012, the library has been forced to close down twice because of a flooding threat, and maintenance staff have surrounded the library entrance with sandbags every time there's a heavy rain to stop the building from flooding.

It was a dramatic scene Friday afternoon between 1 and 2 p.m., as UH West Oahu staff and students used brooms and trash cans to keep flood waters from entering the library during a heavy downpour. They also stacked sandbags and other materials to divert floodwaters away from the library entrance.

It's a good thing the flood struck in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday when there were plenty of people to respond.

"If there were no sand bags there, if they hadn't brought more sand bags out here to this site about ten feet away from the doors, flooding would have happened and books could have been potentially in danger," said UH West Oahu student Mathew Ursua, a reporter for the University of Hawaii's Ka Leo O Hawaii newspaper who shot video of the scene.

Students said on Friday, rain waters flowed down a concrete walkway flooding the area right outside the library.

"The question is always why didn't they get that right in the first place?" asked Ursua. "I just hope that something's done soon."

Sources told Hawaii News Now the project was designed properly but the elevations were not constructed according to the plans, creating the ponding problem outside the library, which poses a threat during heavy rains.

A school spokeswoman said the campus was not designed to withstand a 50- or 100-year flood because it's located in a dry portion of Oahu.

"Being that we're out in Kapolei, we are planned and designed for a ten-year storm system. We are drier here than in, say, other parts of the island," said Leila Wai Shimokawa, director of communications for UH West Oahu.

The school has taken temporary measures such as installing a gutter extension to funnel water farther away from the library and keeping sandbags on standby for heavy rains.

Ryan Sommer, UH West Oahu's student body president, said, "They've done preventative measures just about every time it does rain just to make sure nothing happens, but luckily the library has never actually flooded."

UH will go out to bid for a more permanent fix in the next few weeks and expects to spend about $225,000 making a drainage trench in a grassy field next to the library more effective.

"We are working on a design to help improve the drainage here.  It will deepen the drainage ditch to divert the water away from the library," Shimokawa said.

UH officials hope to start that drainage work over the winter break, to minimize interruptions to students, but in the meantime, the sandbags are still at the ready for the next flash flood.

The library closed Friday afternoon and remained shut Saturday because of Friday's near-flood incident. The closure had consequences for non-traditional students for whom the library is their sanctuary away from family, work and other commitments where they can get school work done.

"We all scrambled, but some of us didn't have a place to go.  And didn't have that option, well, I'll just study at home, because if you can't get into the library, you can't get to your books or your study group," said Lorraine Suankum, a UH West Oahu anthropology student.

Before Friday, the library last closed because of a flood threat in September of 2014 for three hours, UH officials said.

UH West Oahu opened its new Kapolei campus in August of 2012 with about 1,997 students.  Today, the school has about 2,661 students.

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