One way universities try to be competitive is by offering faculty housing — University of Hawaii is no exception. But the school’s need for additional housing might mean the end for its only teaching farm in Manoa.

UH Manoa administrators recently unveiled plans to build faculty housing at one of two university sites — the 10-acre farm in Manoa, or a 5-acre College of Education site that includes the University Lab School and the PBS Hawaii station.

University officials say the housing is needed to recruit and retain faculty at the university. As is, there are not enough accommodations. Yet part of the reason for the crunch is that the university hasn’t been enforcing its own faculty housing time limits.

Vassilis Syrmos, an administrator with the Office of Research and Graduate Education speaking on behalf of the vice-chancellor’s office, said the university is still in the planning stage.

“At this point, no decisions have been made,” Syrmos said. “It’s far from being done.”

The university is looking into issues such as zoning and sewer and water capacity. Once these have been cleared up, UH Manoa’s chancellor will decide what happens next.

But even the news that the university was considering using the Magoon Research Station caught researchers and staff by surprise.

While Magoon would have to be dismantled, the College of Education and lab school would likely stay at their current site, university officials said.

Faculty at the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources say the station is needed to continue educating and training students for agricultural jobs such as fruit and vegetable producers, food inspectors and horticulturalists. The college’s students and faculty are the primary users of the location, but three other departments also share the site.

The Magoon facility is tucked away behind the Manoa Marketplace. At a first glance, it just looks like a few greenhouses and storage sheds, but UH researchers said the site is unique because it has a sustainable organic farm, greenhouses, and labs where research is being done on threats to plants and food. Researchers there are studying things like ways to make papaya plants resistant to viruses and diseases, and how to control pineapple black rot after harvesting.

“At anyone time, it could be up to 50 to 60 students a week using Magoon,” Department Chair Robert Paull said.

Paull said the university renovated the site last year, repairing greenhouses and other houses that shade plants. Tempered glass had to be pre-cut and shipped from Los Angeles for the eight greenhouses, because the materials are not readily available in Hawaii, Paull said. The renovation cost $4.1 million.

Moving the research facility would cost UH even more money, but it’s necessary, said Syrmos, with the Office of Research and Graduate Education. The Magoon location could accommodate 80 to 100 apartments, and the College of Education site could fit about 50 units, he said.

According to an assessment the university did in 2008, there are only 237 existing units of faculty housing — two apartment complexes and condominiums in Manoa. All of the 3,200 faculty represented by the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, and other staff not in the union, are eligible to live in them. The report determined that UH was facing a critical shortage of faculty housing, and it looked at the university’s options for locations to build new housing.

“At anytime we have quite a long list of faculty waiting to get into housing,” Syrmos said. There are currently 200 people on a waiting list, he said.

The two sites chosen were the best of four possibilities, Syrmos said. The other possible sites were an area behind the Waahila Faculty Apartments near Dole Street, and an area next to Leahi Hospital in Kaimuki, which Syrmos said was far from Manoa.

But the university faces a housing crisis in part because it lets faculty overstay their welcome.

The report discusses the long waiting list for housing, as well as a lack of turnover in the units. Although there is a 1-year limit to live in the condominiums and a 3-year limit for the apartments, the university has often extended these periods.

“There was a limit, however about seven or eight years ago Chancellor [Peter] Englert declared you could extend,” Syrmos said. He said the university is looking to change this practice within the next couple of months.

“The next step is to look at what everybody has to say,” Syrmos said.

He said UH has asked for a feasibility study of the two sites to take a closer look at infrastructure issues, relocation costs and the traffic impact around the university’s boundaries.

“If the numbers don’t work, if it is an exorbitant amount to build and relocate, we wouldn’t have the faculty housing” at either of the proposed sites, he said. “It wouldn’t make sense.”

Syrmos said the study should be completed by the end of 2012. At that time, he said the university would decide between Magoon Research Facility or the College of Education site, or possibly look for another location.

The university would prefer to build faculty housing in Manoa — close to the campus, he said. But if neither of these two sites works out, he said, “The university will need to look at sites further out than the Manoa Valley.”

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About the Author

  • Cynthia Thurlow
    Cynthia Thurlow is an intern for Honolulu Civil Beat, and a journalism student at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa. Her articles are aimed at informing her readers and sparking discussions around a broad area of topics. She enrolled at the Manoa campus after receiving her A.A. in Liberal Arts (focus on writing) from Kapiolani Community College, where she served as a writer and copy editor for the Kapi`o student newspaper and as a writer, photographer and editor of the Spectrum student journal, where she had overall responsibility for the journal’s content. She has had freelance articles published in the Honolulu Advertiser, and she is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.