A panel of state senators is scrutinizing contracts for the building of the University of Hawaii’s new football stadium after a construction worker died unloading equipment for the stadium on July 30.

The incident is also under investigation by the state labor department.

At a Senate hearing Monday, UH officials denied liability for the worker’s death. They defended the process used to procure services to quickly turn the Rainbow Warrior’s practice area at the Clarence TC Ching Field into a football stadium capable of hosting fans by the start of the season in September.

UH Manoa Football field.
The University of Hawaii is denying liability for the death of a construction worker at Ching Field. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The work had to be done on short notice after UH learned that Aloha Stadium, which is scheduled for demolition in 2022, can no longer safely hold crowds. Renovations at Ching field are expected to total $8.3 million, which includes the cost of permanent bleachers, hospitality suites, audio upgrades and a press box.

Earlier this year, UH contracted with RMY Construction and Fukunaga and Associates to handle the Ching Field renovations, UH Vice President for Administration Jan Gouveia told lawmakers Monday.

RMY subcontracts with a company called InProduction, which provides risers and bleachers for sporting events, to set up the new risers.

RÖDER, a German company that specializes in setting up event spaces, is also a subcontractor for RMY. RÖDER is responsible for engineering a hospitality suite that will sit atop grandstands, according to RÖDER Vice President Alex Pally.

Correction: A previous version of this story said that the construction worker was a RÖDER employee.

The university has previously said that the construction worker was on a crew employed by RÖDER, but Pally said that the worker was employed by a different company. That company did not respond to Civil Beat’s messages seeking confirmation.

The Honolulu Medical Examiner’s office identified the worker as Harry Evans, 30, from the United Kingdom. Information regarding the cause and manner of his death was not available.

Evans was part of a crew from the U.K. and died after being pinned by thousands of pounds of equipment, Hawaii News Now reported.

In response to lawmakers’ questions about liability for the death, Gouveia said UH should not be held responsible.

“I can just say that, as far as the University of Hawaii is concerned, RMY is the general (contractor) on this project who is responsible for all activities arising out of the contract. Period. It’s done through RMY,” she said.

Sen. Donna Kim still had concerns.

“University of Hawaii is the deep pocket, and you cannot  stop anybody from suing the University of Hawaii,” Kim said.

Representatives for RMY did not return a phone call Monday.

The state’s Occupational Safety and Health Division in the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is investigating the incident, according to department spokesman Bill Kunstman.

The investigation could take about six months, according to Kunstman. He said the department doesn’t typically provide details on an investigation until it’s completed.

In a statement issued after Evans’ death, the university offered condolences to his family and friends.

“We stand with you in grief,” the statement said. “UH is committed to doing everything we can to assist in the investigation of this devastating event.”

Senators also dug into contract details regarding Ching field on Monday, particularly how UH expanded contracts to replace turf to allow contractors to set up the new stadium.

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz asked why UH didn’t seek another contractor to finish the stadium work.

Gouveia said UH did not have time. She said RMY and Fukunaga and Associates were already performing work at Ching field on the turf and surrounding structures.

“Adding on a third contractor to this very small site didn’t make a lot of sense from a safety standpoint, from a private management standpoint,” she said.

UH Manoa Athletics Director Dave Matlin also defended UH’s decision to buy permanent bleachers instead of renting them. While the decision added some costs, it was more feasible in the long run.

He also noted the short time UH had to find a new football location after learning that Aloha Stadium could not hold fans. The NCAA requires Division I football teams like UH to have an average home attendance of 15,000 per game over a two-year period.

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