The airport and University of Hawaii at Manoa must be the dynamic duo of dysfunction — twin, prestige poster kids for the state’s poorly maintained and embarrassing infrastructure. But let’s put HNL and its byzantine problems aside for the moment and look at the Manoa campus.

Maybe it’s the simple fact of being a college campus in the tropics that accounts for Manoa’s overall funkiness — its stained and cracked concrete, its pushy tree roots and mildewed corners. Less simple is the institution’s long-running tragedy/farce as the state’s queer and highfalutin foster child, used and abused for decades by politicians and contractors while it tries to plumb the Pacific world and ready Hawaii’s next generations.

The result is a patchwork campus, a fitful agglomeration eluding order and the sustained idea.

University of Hawaii. McCarthy Mall.  2 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The University of Hawaii at Manoa’s McCarthy Mall.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

UH Manoa’s Landscape Master Plan (2012) summed things up pretty well when it published a sorry photo of an outdoor bench at a central campus crossroads next to two mismatched garbage bins. The caption: “Site furnishings do not always communicate an appropriate image for a leading research university.”

Nevertheless, there’s some good news in this, UH Manoa’s 98th year: In August, the Board of Regents approved first steps in what is shaping up to be a $300 million consolidation of the campus’ underground infrastructure.

Meanwhile, ongoing programs of costly fixes and tweaks to the physical plant, as well as to landscaping and circulation systems, are beginning to show some positive and potentially game-changing results.

First up, the handsome new campus axis taking shape along Correa Road. Early last year, the student-run Campus Center Board opened its glassy $38 million gym, called the Warrior Recreation Center, right next door to the asymmetrical hulk of CCB’s Campus Center building (1974). The Campus Center’s iconic stairway and blank concrete sidewall enclose two sides of a well-trod grassy plaza that has a mature monkeypod tree at its center. With classical elan, the new gym’s monumental makai porch squares the third side.

University of Hawaii at Manoa Campus Center. 2 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The UH Manoa Campus Center and what is known as “the Monkeypod Courtyard.”

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The fourth side of the courtyard, now called the Monkeypod Courtyard and fitted out with several shady benches, remains open to the east, where Correa Road, a busy service lane lined with mature coconut palms and shower trees, and extending straight to East-West Road, suggests the semblance of a broad avenue, lined with buildings of more-or-less uniform height and setback, terminating in the busy, squared-off courtyard.

Halfway down the lane, the crisp profile of the six-story Information Technology Center, also completed last year, adds heft to the illusion.

During a tour with longtime UH Professor of Architecture Steve Meder, who also serves as head of the campus office of planning and facilities, I rhapsodize about the Warrior Center and the new axis it creates. Meder agrees, adding that a small parking lot abutting the Monkeypod Courtyard is to be relocated and replaced with more green space. The precious stalls will be moved to a new mauka parking lot off Maile Way — along with over 100 others in the heart of the campus — in keeping with the Landscape Master Plan.

The bad news, Meder tells me, is that CCB has plans to construct a new restroom building on the east edge of the Monkeypod Courtyard, a move that will weaken the emerging courtyard/Correa alignment.

How could such a thing could be allowed, I ask. Meder explains that CCB is semi-autonomous from the campus, that there are historic preservation issues, and that it’s complicated.

Oh, well.

University of Hawaii at Manoa, Varney Circle. 2 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Varney Circle at UH Manoa.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

We leave the courtyard and cross Legacy Path, a major pedestrian mauka-makai axis leading from the soon-to-be-restored Varney Circle and fountain, past the Monkeypod Courtyard and Andrews Amphitheater to Dole Street, terminating at the law school and the Quarry parking lot elevator plaza. In the next few years, the path will become a shadier and friendlier promenade, Meder promises.

We duck into gutted Building 37 on Correa Road, a single-story, Dickey-roofed, house-like remnant of an earlier time. It’s now in mid-renovation and will reemerge as the Innovation Lab (or “iLab”), where all the tech-heavy departments are joining up to do all kinds of creative and collaborative computer modeling, simulation and 3-D printing.

Just beyond Kuykendall Hall, we divert into the cool, heavily gardened Sustainability Courtyard. Kuykendall, home of the English department, was an early (and failed) attempt, circa 1964, to incorporate natural ventilation into a conventionally air-conditioned, multi-story building. For now it just looks run-down and scabbed with air conditioning units.

Within three to five years, Meder tells me, the 80,000-square-foot classroom building and office tower will be renovated as a “net zero” building; that is, it will reduce its energy consumption by 60 percent and get the remaining 40 percent from renewables. Another net-zero renovation, the old Klum Gym (aka “Slum Gym,” 1958), is set to be completed in the next four years.

“We’re going from a consumptive culture to one of sustainability using more efficient and restorative measures.” — Sharon Ching Williams, UH Office of Planning and Facilities

We peer into one of Sakamaki Hall’s new classrooms, where summer students wielding laptops sit in a loose circle of modular upholstered furniture while the instructor talks and scrawls on one of several moveable, interactive whiteboards. Sakamaki, an imposing, open-corridor, concrete stack of classrooms (1976) was renovated last year. There are two landscaped courtyards within, both furnished with umbrella tables.

Back on Correa, we stop to study the Information Technology Center tower, designed by Ferraro Choi Associates. It’s a secured building, Meder says, not open to the public and given over to computer support services. Its birdcage filigree of fixed-vane sun shades, the gestural curve of its east elevation and a newly landscaped and benched side alley all work together to transform its corner from a squalid alley into another attractive campus cross-axis, this one from McCarthy Mall all the way down to the science quad.

On the long walk to Meder’s planning office down in the Quarry, we pass the stolid modernist mass of Holmes Hall on Dole Street. Full of engineering classrooms, labs and offices, the building has about $20 million in deferred maintenance, Meder tells me. “Deferred maintenance” means the backlog of routine repairs that were supposed to be done but weren’t.

All told, the Manoa campus, with 309 buildings on 320 acres, has more than $500 million in deferred maintenance, Meder says wearily.

He mentions Snyder Hall, front-and-center on McCarthy Mall, a run-down, leaky, lab-filled building (1962) housing the microbiology department. It hasn’t been renovated since it was built. In August, the Board of Regents approved $50 million in state-backed bonds to relocate the department to a new building on the northern edge of campus and renovate Snyder for general classroom use.

UH Manoa Quad. 2 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The UH Manoa Quad.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Crossing the bridge to the huge Quarry parking lot, Meder, an early and dogged advocate for UH campus sustainability, casually mentions that the entire top level of the parking structure will be roofed with acres of solar panels within the year. All told, the campus will soon have 1.5 to 2 megawatts of photovoltaics in place that can generate up to just under 10 percent of the campus’ total energy consumption on a given day.

At the planning office, Meder’s staff runs through a Power Point presentation of all kinds of plans and programs in the works — a campus lighting and electrical master plan, a wayfinding/signage master plan, a storm-water control and water catchment and re-use master plan, and an ambitious project to electronically measure, inventory and manage all assignable classroom, lab, office, and meeting space on campus.

“We’re moving from fixed, obsolete facilities to more flexible and adaptive structures,” says Sharon Ching Williams, who runs the planning office’s architecture section, “so we can change really quickly using plug-and-play modes. We’re going from a consumptive culture to one of sustainability using more efficient and restorative measures.

“Most importantly,” she says, “we’re moving from being reactive and just doing what we’ve been doing for years to a more proactive approach with longer-term goals.”

To tame the campus’ willy-nilly underground infrastructure, Meder’s office mapped out a simplified system of trunk lines that will gather campus electrical, water, sewage and storm-drain utilities into a single circuit of buried lines that will run under existing open-space corridors for easy access, and into which all existing and future campus facilities will tap. Meder calls it a “formal” infrastructure, as opposed to the campus’ existing “organic,” or piecemeal, one.

In late August, the Board of Regents signaled its support for the trunk lines plan when it approved a $1.5 million consultant contract to inaugurate the estimated $300 million, 20-year project.

“It’a a big deal,” Meder says. “What Manoa is learning after decades of organic growth is to consolidate the infrastructure rather than have it grow unbridled. After a century, it’s difficult to do, but we’re looking forward to the next century, knowing we’re bringing some order to the chaos.”

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