Lawmakers are considering funding requests for repairs as part of a big push this year to catch up on maintenance of state facilities.

Water damage from rain that leaked into two historic state buildings downtown has caused interior damage to both, and fixing the roofing and other problems will cost tens of millions of dollars, according to state officials.

The roof of the King David Kalakaua Building that houses the downtown post office and agencies under the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has leaked for at least a decade, and repairs there are expected to cost more than $20 million, according to the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Meanwhile, leaky downspouts in the No. 1 Capitol District building at the corner of Richards and Hotel Streets — better known to many as the “Hemmeter building” — have caused damage and problems on the top two floors of that historic structure.

No.1 Capitol District, also known as the “Hemmeter building,” has been plagued by leaks for years that affect the fourth and fifth floors of the historic building. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The roof of that building was replaced three years ago at a cost of more than $8 million. But a spokesman for the state Department of Accounting and General Services said the downspouts are not functioning properly, and water continues to leak into the interior columns and walls of the structure.

A Bucket By The Elevator

Mike McCartney, former director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, said leaks in the Hemmeter building were causing problems such as mold and damaged ceiling tiles even before he went to work on the fifth floor of the building in 2019.

The fourth floor was also affected by leaks, and those problems continued even after the roof was fixed, he said. Staff put a trash can near the elevator on the fifth floor to catch the dripping water, and it remained in that spot for years, he said.

The leaks raised concerns that mold might pose a health and safety issue, and ceiling tiles would also fall into the fifth-floor offices and conference room. McCartney recalled having to clean up one such mess in front of Navy officers who came to DBEDT’s offices to discuss projects planned for Pearl Harbor.

“It was embarrassing,” he said. “The only one saving grace in the building is you can open the windows.”

A $5 million contract was awarded to renovate the fifth floor in January, including replacing flooring, ceiling and lighting upgrades, and fixing the air conditioning. DBEDT has requested another $660,000 from lawmakers to pay for moving, storage, cubicles and office furnishings after construction.

However, DAGS acknowledged the downspouts, which were not part of the re-roofing project three years ago, are still leaking.

“DAGS is aware of numerous leaks throughout the building that have been occurring and need to be addressed by work order,” the agency said in a statement. “DAGS will need to conduct investigations, assess the various causes and source of these leaks, and determine if a (construction) project is warranted to replace various systems.”

No. 1 Capitol District, formerly known as The Armed Services YMCA, was built in 1928 on the site of Hawaii’s first hotel. It is now home to the Hawaii State Art Museum and state offices.

Those downtown problem projects surfaced at the Legislature this year just as long-standing problems with the Hawaii Convention Center’s leaky roof attracted renewed public attention.

New Urgency To Fix The Problems

Lawmakers declined a request for $64 million last year to fix the convention center roof, and the problem has worsened since then. This year lawmakers proposed to finally provide the $64 million to fix the center’s rooftop terrace deck as part of House Bill 1375, which is headed to conference committee.

That money is just a small part of a big push this year to catch up on maintenance of state facilities. The state House proposed spending $1 billion of the budget surplus on repair and upkeep of state facilities, while the Senate budget proposal commits more than $480 million to state maintenance projects.

Among the priority maintenance projects for the Senate is the King David Kalakaua Building. The Senate has budgeted $21 million for repairs to the building and wants the U.S. Postal Service to kick in a share of the cost.

The downtown landmark, also known as the Old Federal Building, was built in 1922 as a federal courthouse, post office and customs house.

William Nhieu, communications director for the DCCA, said in a written statement that the Kalakaua building “encountered water damage to spaces going back at least ten years due to leaks in the roof, however inclement weather events in 2020 and 2021 resulted in further damage to the facility.”

Scaffolding surrounds the Diamond Head end of the downtown Post Office building, officially known as the King David Kalakaua Building. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

The roof needs immediate repairs, and the scope of work includes replacing the roofing tiles, repairs to structural and aesthetic columns, repainting damaged areas, hazardous material remediation and replacing the rooftop waterproof membrane.

State historic preservation requirements demand that roofing tiles “similar to the original design” be used for the project, and the state has identified specialized vendors who produce those tiles in California and Ohio, Nhieu wrote.

More Maintenance Woes

And those aren’t the only buildings in the Hawaii Capital Historic District that are in sad shape.

The Hawaii State Capitol itself has wooden fencing around much of it to keep people out of the drained reflecting pools, which leaked into parking and office areas below. Lighting in part of the parking garage has failed, and House Speaker Scott Saiki said the plumbing failed on the chamber level earlier this week.

The House and Senate this year each budgeted $33.5 million to fix the leaking Capitol reflecting pools, a problem that was well known back in 2021 when former Gov. David Ige asked lawmakers for money to fix them.

Saiki said the maintenance problems at state facilities probably stems from “a combination of factors — lack of funding, lack of planning, lack of foresight, lack of staff.”

And he said the state budget surplus — which Gov. Josh Green’s administration has estimated will be about $2 billion as of June 30 — is an opportunity to catch up.

“We want to use the surplus to fund one-time needs, which includes repair and maintenance of state buildings,” Saiki said.

But he said the $1 billion that the House proposed to spend on upkeep of state facilities may have to be pared back if state tax collections turn out to be more sluggish than expected.

House and Senate negotiators are expected to make final decisions next week on which projects will be included in the final draft of the new state budget.

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