Honolulu Hale on the corner of King and Punchbowl streets is included in many travel guides as a must-see piece of island architecture.

Built in 1928, the California-Spanish style facade was modeled after the centuries old Bargello palace in Florence, Italy, and includes an interior courtyard and speaker’s balcony.

Honolulu city hall’s majestic white walls and red rooftop tiles are a welcome structural complement to downtown Honolulu’s other historic dwellings, including Iolani Palace and Kawaiahao Church.

But step inside and things get a little gross.

Mold, asbestos and lead paint permeate the walls, floors, windowsills and air ducts.

Last year, a 188-page report detailed the problems, saying among other things that the contaminants can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems for those inside Honolulu’s local government headquarters.

City officials, however, don’t appear to be in any rush to scrub the mold, lead and asbestos from Honolulu Hale. The city contracted for $250,000 with Unitek in 2012 for some lead paint clean-up, but now officials say the building is on a fix-it-as-we-go approach.

The Honolulu City Council has added $1 million in the coming year’s budget to help mediate the problem on the second and third floors of Honolulu Hale, in particular inside members’ own offices and workspaces.

“We’re still suffering,” Honolulu Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said. “People are always coughing and getting sick.”

Mold in Honolulu Hale

Submitted photo

Mold insdie an airduct at Honolulu Hale.

The budget amendment says the city should plan, design, construct and inspect for the remediation of hazardous materials, including mold, lead and asbestos in Honolulu Hale. The work is slated for the council chamber and committee rooms.

Kobayashi said it’s important to focus on these areas because the area is where citizens come to participate in government, whether through testifying at a public hearing or visiting their council member.

“Our floor is very public,” Kobayashi said. “It’s not right that it’s not safe.”

Kobayashi said she put $14 million in the budget several years ago for Honolulu Hale improvements, but doesn’t know what happened to the money. Now, she looks at what she describes as decades old carpet in the hallways outside her office and is disgusted.

“I like antiques,” she said, “but not that kind.”

It’s unclear exactly how much work it would take to remove all the hazardous materials from Honolulu Hale, and the city hasn’t made it much of a priority. But officials say the $1 million won’t be enough to clean all the contamination from Honolulu Hale

Design and Construction Director Chris Takashige said the city currently doesn’t have any major projects going to remove asbestos, mold or lead paint from Honolulu Hale.

There is some work being done to remove mold and other materials from the ducts in Councilwoman Kymberly Pine’s office.

Takashige also said the abatement of the hazardous materials is done when other projects are underway, which makes it hard to track how much money has spent explicitly on remediation.

“Because the (asbestos contained material) and lead paint is either already contained or stable, we test for hazardous materials as projects arise due to the age of the facility to ensure it’s addressed when we plan to disturb parts of the building,” Takashige said in an email.

“Due to the age of the facility and past experience with these types of buildings we know there’s a high possibility that these materials were used in construction, so we test the project areas as part of our preparation for the work.”

A lack of health risks is why the city considers the removal of hazardous materials to be a low priority, Takashige said. Specifically, he noted that the asbestos and lead “are in solid form and are not consumed.”

Mold is a different issue. According to the 2012 report, there are no regulations “pertaining to quantitative limits of indoor mold” in a building.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t health risks, such as asthma, allergic reactions and other respiratory problems, related to having fungi in the ventilation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says there’s no practical way to get rid of mold and mold spores in an indoor environment. The best way to cut down on it to eliminate moisture, which is a difficult task in a tropical environment like Hawaii.

Dirty vents at Honolulu Hale

Submitted photo

A moldy vent inside Honolulu Hale.

Still, many city employees are waiting for a solution. They know Honolulu Hale is old, but some have said it might be time to consider a new location.

Some are eying Alii Place, where the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation keeps its offices. Step inside the waiting room on the 17th floor and it’s like entering a swanky attorney’s lair rather than a public facility.

But HART also pays the price for such luxurious digs. The agency plans to spend more than $2.1 million on rent in Fiscal Year 2014.

Still, the question remains about how much of a priority it should be to do a complete overhaul of Honolulu Hale to remove contamination from the building.

Some see the $1 million earmark as a self-serving means to improve council member office space, while others still consider it to be a health issue.

Councilman Breene Harimoto is one policy maker who doesn’t believe it’s the greatest priority, at least for him.

“I know these offices are very old and I’ve heard the stories,” Harimoto said. “But me personally, I have asthma so I guess I don’t notice any difference.”

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