- Special Projects
The University of Hawaii’s maintenance backlog has swelled to $848 million, almost double what it was in 2014.
Decades of deferred maintenance have caught up with many of the university’s aging buildings, and now, UH leadership is proposing an ambitious six-year, $1.6 billion modernization plan — partially to address the backlog and partially to move beyond it.
The system’s Board of Regents updated its six-year plan last month and finalized a $614.5 million capital improvements request that is expected to be sent to the Legislature next year.
While the $1.6 billion renewal plan would relieve — even demolish — some of the deferred maintenance backlog, it can’t eliminate it completely in six years, UH officials said.
In fact, they estimate UH will still have a maintenance backlog of about $742 million in 2025.
The university would have to spend about $962 million over the next decade just to keep the backlog from growing, according to a report by Sightlines, a company contracted to study facility maintenance.
Juggling maintenance needs with the desire to modernize is a “significant funding challenge,” said university spokesman Dan Meisenzahl. “The university is being realistic and practical as it addresses its aging infrastructure.”
Rather than just tackling deferred maintenance, UH wants to implement what it calls “RIM,” projects that renew, improve and modernize.
The university will use the deferred maintenance backlog to prioritize which buildings and projects will be modernized — or in some instances, torn down — first.
Over the next six fiscal years, plans are to renovate several buildings at UH Manoa that contribute significantly to the backlog. The modernization plan reflects Hawaii’s six-year budget cycles and would be updated with more projects in the future, officials said.
The goal, said Vice President of Administration Jan Gouveia, “is to ultimately modernize all our classes, laboratories and student spaces with a focus on improving the learning environment.”
Revenues from increased student tuition for the next two academic years will go to address deferred maintenance, according to budget policy papers.
The upcoming $614.5 million capital request to the Legislature is to help make up for funds the university requested but did not receive in its last budget request to the Legislature, according to Gouveia.
Lawmakers tightened the UH purse strings in recent years. They approved about half of UH’s request for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, and have criticized the university for budget discrepancies and not having a clear plan.
“Now, we want to be in a place where, if they commit a dollar to us, they know that dollar was spent efficiently,” Meisenzahl said.
Three classrooms in Sakamaki Hall have a “no shoe” policy. Anyone entering needs to take off their footwear before stepping onto the carpet.
The rooms in Sakamaki Hall are more cafe than classroom. Students can sit, stand or lie about the room during lectures. And the furniture can be rearranged. There are no neat rows of metal chairs and small desks.
While these classrooms are the only ones of their kind on the Manoa campus, UH leadership would like them to become much more common as it implements its modernization plan across the 10-campus system.
“That’s where our focus has been internally, on bringing together a more open learning environment,” Gouveia said.
Employee spaces would also change. Instead of mazes of doors to cordoned offices that might belong to just one department, the modernization plan calls for flexible office spaces.
Take Gouveia’s office, for example. She shares it with her deputy, and the room could also be used for group meetings or converted into another office if her staff ever moves out. It used to be just the domain of one vice president.
“This is the paradigm we are trying to spread throughout this campus, whether it’s office space, classroom space or laboratory space,” Gouveia said.
For some university departments used to having their own buildings, the idea of sharing might be a hard sell. However, the departments are cooperating so far, Gouveia said.
“The UH community understands that we have limited resources,” she said. “We have to be able to do more with less.”
In fact, the Board of Regents has a policy against expanding the total square footage of UH’s campuses, according to budget documents.
“We don’t always need to do new buildings,” Gouveia said. “If you talk to our sustainability team, the most efficient building is the building you never build.”
Some of UH Manoa’s worst buildings are scheduled for either renovation or demolition under the modernization plan.
The upcoming capital improvement request to the Legislature includes $41 million to renovate Sinclair Library and turn it into a larger study space. Besides open areas, the university may plan to have counseling and academic services on the second and third floors, Gouveia said.
The university is currently moving books from Sinclair into the Hamilton Library in anticipation of the renovation, which may not start for another couple years. Consolidating the libraries follows national trends, Gouveia said.
UH also asked for the $41 million for this project last capital budget cycle and only got $700,000 for it, according to budget documents.
Henke Hall, which had a maintenance backlog of nearly $2 million and previously housed agricultural departments, has been demolished to make way a Life Sciences building, which will be home to the College of Sciences.
Snyder Hall, which currently houses the science college, will be demolished once the new building is finished.
Kuykendall Hall, a classroom building with a maintenance backlog of about $19.2 million, may also get torn down.
What’s wrong with it? Pretty much everything, according to a state report from 2015. It needs a new roof, new elevator system, new HVAC, plumbing replacements, equipment replacements and improvements to fire detection and prevention.
UH is requesting $2 million to assess whether or not the building should be renovated or demolished. Its offices currently house the English Department.
The university is seeking a $55 million makeover for Holmes Hall, the building that has the second-highest maintenance backlog. It houses the Engineering College and, except for new air conditioning, hasn’t had any improvements since it was built in 1972, according to budget documents.
A plan to take down some of the small, wooden buildings that house administrative offices surrounding Bachman Hall is also being talked about, according to Gouveia.
Elsewhere, Hawaii Community College needs $50 million to develop a new portion of its campus. Honolulu Community College, which focuses on vocational programs, is planning for a $43.5 million Science Building to expand its offerings for tech-related programs.
At Windward Community College, the capital budget requests $3 million for an agricultural biotechnology facility. The program currently operates out of an old shipping container.
UH leadership and legislators have sometimes differed on funding priorities.
For example, legislators approved about $104.2 million this fiscal year to cover projects and programs that UH didn’t request, according to information from UH budget documents.
“Some state lawmakers have priorities that might differ from ours,” Meisenzahl said. “We have to find that common ground.”
Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, who was the Senate Ways and Means Committee vice chair last session, says UH and all state departments will need to consider how much will have to be spent on disaster relief next session.
Much of the funding for this relief may need to come from capital funding, which means UH might not get all of its request.
Hawaii County recently asked the state for $17.4 million to cover damage from Hurricane Lane, which caused about $20.5 million in damages to public facilities.
“A lot of things will not get funded completely or at all,” Keith-Agaran said.
In January 2016, legislators criticized UH for not having a list of projects to prioritize and a lack of diversified revenue streams.
Now, the six-year modernization plan uses a combination of deferred maintenance and buildings that get the most use by students to prioritize building renovations. Gov. David Ige also signed into law a bill that allows UH to take out $100 million in bonds to cover capital projects.
Keith-Agaran says it’s still too early to tell how dollars might be spent when the Legislature convenes in January. But he says UH seems to be preparing better than in past years.
“I think they’re in a better position,” he said. “I think the difficulty is that there is only so much money to go around.”
Read UH’s budget request below.
Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.
There are upsides to being a nonprofit as we carry out our public-service mission. We don’t have a paywall on our site, charge a subscription fee, or clutter our articles with ads. But this also means that reader support sustains every aspect of what we do. Without you, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that. By donating, you’re supporting everyone on staff—and allowing quality journalism to thrive. If you value our work, will you make a tax-deductible donation today?