The University of Hawaii plans to ask the Legislature next session for $236.5 million for new buildings and improvements in 2021.

The extra money is part of UH’s ambitious, six-year plan to modernize its aging infrastructure, and also meant to revive some projects the Legislature didn’t fund last session. Last year, UH asked for $319.5 million in 2021 as part of its two-year budget plan. The Legislature gave it about $93 million.

The plan includes the long-term goal of reducing UH’s total building space to decrease its maintenance backlog, while also consolidating academic departments.

“We’re prioritizing classrooms labs and student spaces,” Jan Gouveia, vice president for administration, said at a UH Board of Regents meeting Thursday. “We’re really encouraging people to go more flexible and agile. It’s a behavioral shift, a cultural shift.”

University of Hawaii Board of Regents Meeting.
A University of Hawaii Board of Regents committee gave initial approval to a $236 million budget request expected to be sent to the governor later this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The proposal cleared a board committee Thursday but still needs to get approval by the full board later this month before being sent to the governor later this year and then the Legislature in January.

The projects on UH’s wish list include buildings at some of the system’s 10 campuses along with demolitions at others.

The majority of the proposed capital budget, about $135.5 million, will go to UH Manoa, the system’s flagship campus.

UH plans to use $66 million to build a single-story parking structure behind the Queen Liliuokalani Center for Student Services along Maile Way. The long-term plan is to remove the surface stalls on Varney Circle to make room for a bike and pedestrian pathway.

Some of the money would be used to fund a replacement for Snyder Hall, which currently houses the science college. Faculty there will move into the new life sciences building, still under construction, while they wait for Snyder Hall to be replaced.

There’s also a $4 million request for the design of a new building to consolidate most administrative offices, expected to cost $96 million. That’s coupled with a plan to demolish about 100,000 square feet of portables that currently house some of those administrative offices. Funding for that demolition isn’t expected until at least 2023.

At Honolulu Community College, UH is asking for $46 million for construction of a new science building. The planning has already been completed, and the Legislature approved funds. But UH had to give the money back several years ago after it could not get a building permit from the city because of the city’s sewer work for Mayor Wright Homes. 

Mayor Wright Homes and the community college are on the same sewer line, UH Vice President for Community Colleges Erika Lacro said, which means the new building can’t tie into the sewer system until the city finishes its work.

“We keep postponing it and postponing it until we have verification we can tie in,” Gouveia said.

UH is also asking for $35 million for a new West Oahu campus center to house advising and other student support services, a tutoring center and basketball courts.

About $67 million of the budget proposal would go to catch up on a maintenance backlog across the system. The backlog is expected to drop from $846 million last year to $812 million, the first decline since about 2013. 

But it’s expected to start growing again without adequate funding. Gouveia estimates that the university needs to spend $125 million just to keep pace.

While funding might be limited, the Board of Regents wants UH to reduce its square footage. Most of the maintenance backlog, about $661 million, comes from the more than 100 year old Manoa campus, which has more than 9.4 million square feet of building space.

Gouveia has plans to reduce that space by about 600,000 square feet. Board chair Ben Kudo wants a more aggressive approach, and an eventual reduction of 900,000 square feet or more.

“I think we need to reduce the size of our house,” Kudo said. “Space utilization becomes key in maximizing the smaller house you have to live in.”

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