A redesign of McCarthy Mall to provide more outdoor study space is among the projects on hold.

The final legislative budget will likely leave the University of Hawaii several hundred million dollars short of its request for fiscal years 2024-2025.

The end result will have very clear consequences for the UH community.

The university’s proposed budget included capital improvement projects to improve energy efficiency, enhance outdoor study spaces and upgrade buildings around campus – many of which will now have to wait. 

The UH Board of Regents Committee on Planning and Facilities had outlined those plans at over $550 million in its capital budget.

In total, the Legislature approved roughly $385 million of that, and a third of that funds projects the university doesn’t want or requested a lesser amount for.

Rep. Jeanne Kapela, who voted no on the final budget bill, said it’s the “worst budget we’ve ever seen” in regards to public education. Chair of the House Higher Education and Technology Committee Amy Perusso also voted no and said it “did not fund the priorities of the system.”

Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Donna Mercado Kim, who both had significant input on the final bill, did not respond to requests for comment.

University of Hawaii. McCarthy Mall.  2 sept 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
The university’s plans to upgrade McCarthy Mall, one of UH Manoa’s central arteries, may be put on hold following the legislative budget. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat)

Construction Plans Grind to a Halt

One UH proposal called for $20 million each year to fund rooftop solar panels throughout the Manoa campus, to offset its heavy energy consumption. That went unfunded.

The university has also been pursuing projects to improve and create al fresco study spaces. The university had allocated at least $45 million toward this goal with work planned at Andrew’s Amphitheater, Krauss Hall and McCarthy Mall.

UH Community Design Center Principal Investigator Brian Strawn said that in a recent workshop over half the students present “asked for places to study or eat in the shade and protected from the rain. Like very humble, practical requests.”

The McCarthy Mall redesign in particular would have widened the mall’s leafy walkway to make space for new seating that could fit nearly 500 people, along with electrical outlets, lighting and laptop space.

“That particular area of the campus is where students are all the time, and I think the more life we can bring to the core campus, the better it is overall for the student body,” Strawn said.

The university has also been in the process of replacing Snyder Hall with a new building, and plans to add a sixth story to provide adequate space for College of Education faculty and staff now appear to be delayed.

Beyond modernization, much of the money the university requested would have gone toward run-of-the-mill facilities maintenance.

Funding for the UH system’s Renew, Improve, Modernize program under which many of the building renovations and upkeep fall, came in at $60 million for the next two years – $140 million short of what the university had requested. 

Artificial Reef Already Funded

What has further baffled university officials was the roughly $63 million allocated to developing a prototype of an artificial reef – something for which the university had already received federal funding. 

“This is not money that we wanted, and we wouldn’t be able to use it for anything else because of the way it’s appropriated in the budget,” said Kalbert Young, UH vice president of budget and finance.

UH Community Colleges accounted for 60% of the overall capital budget approved, receiving almost $43 million more than the Board of Regents had requested.

“That I would consider a disproportionate amount into the community college,” said Young. “It clearly is not based on any rationality or square footage or number of students or facility space.”

While the operating budget will allow the university to continue functioning uninterrupted, programs like Hawaii Promise, which covers costs for University of Hawaii community college students who are residents and demonstrate financial need, were left treading water.

The university requested $38 million in additional funding that would have expanded coverage to UH Manoa, Hilo and West Oahu four-year colleges, but the Legislature denied funding.

Although the legislative budget typically hews close to the final state budget, Gov. Josh Green has already taken the unusual step of using his line-item veto power to, among other things, allocate an additional $25 million to UH. The governor has not yet indicated to the university his plans for the new funds.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author