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Friday, February 2, 2001

By Ronen Zilberman, Star-Bulletin
Roosevelt High freshmen and community volunteers landscaped
school grounds by pulling weeds and planting palms, but
more money is needed for ongoing projects.

urged to fund
school repairs

A mounting backlog in repairs
spurs a potential $300 million in
capital improvement bonds

By Crystal Kua

The sight of broken gym lockers, dirt-covered shower floors, butt-pinching cracked chairs and dark older buildings shocked Raquel Gushi when she entered high school.

"I didn't know it would be that bad," said Gushi, president of her freshman class at Roosevelt High School.

Legislature Gushi, 14, was to tell state lawmakers today that her education is affected by the condition of school buildings and facilities and she wants the state Legislature to do something about it.

"We need capital funds to restore our historic campus and make it a better learning environment," she plans to tell them in a hearing scheduled today.

With a $640 million -- and mounting -- backlog in repair and maintenance projects, the governor, the Legislature and the Department of Education all have pledged to tackle deferred maintenance projects this session with the potential of setting aside nearly $300 million in capital improvement bonds.

"I think they realize the importance. There's a lot of concern," said James Richardson, who oversees school repair and maintenance projects for the state Department of Accounting and General Services.

A series of bills making their way through the Legislature will aim to steer more money to the problem while creating ways to do these projects efficiently.

"I think the hope is to get more money in addition to having the money go further -- having a different mechanism to do more work," said Sen. Norman Sakamoto, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

By Ronen Zilberman, Star-Bulletin
Nicole Yoshikane, left, and Maria-Erica Miguel, check out the
new mirrors at Roosevelt High School. The seniors adopted
the bathrooms, painting, cleaning and putting up mirrors,
with community volunteer help.

Sakamoto's committee was to hear several bills today, including one that Gushi plans to testify on.

Gushi said Roosevelt embarked on a beautification project this year with the help of community volunteers.

The work included the freshmen landscaping a bare grassy area by pulling weeds and planting palms and seniors adopting the bathrooms by painting, cleaning and putting up mirrors.

But more money is needed, and that's where the bill comes in, Gushi said.

"Hopefully, it will give us money we need so we can continue to have those campus beautification projects, Gushi said.

The bill would set up the Hawaii school repair and maintenance trust fund for public schools.

"Create a trust fund so people, corporations or whomever can donate money to fix the schools and have schools work with volunteers to come up with proposals to indeed do the work," Sakamoto said. "Volunteer effort could augment what the state is doing."

Richardson said it's similar to what his office does now in helping to coordinate volunteer projects at schools.

Another bill is resurrected from last year that was drafted by Sakamoto to hit not only the backlog of projects but try to keep up with future repair and maintenance needs.

Richardson said plans are under way to renovate Roosevelt's historic main building if funds can be secured.

Older and historic buildings present another concern in the maintenance game.

The House Education Committee took up a bill yesterday that would set up criteria to determine when it would be more cost-effective to demolish a building rather than renovate it.

Rep. Mark Takai (D, Waimalu) wondered whether it's worthwhile to spend $600,000 -- and more in subsequent years -- to continue to shore up an aging, deteriorating building at Waimalu Elementary instead of spending $1.5 million to construct a new building with some added features.

Ray Minami, Department of Education interim facilities chief, said that while old buildings have been demolished to make way for new ones, a building will be renovated if it isn't a safety hazard and the renovation will add years to its life in a cost-effective way.

But Minami also told the committee that preservation of historic buildings costs more when work centers on keeping the integrity and look of the building intact.

For example, recent renovation of McKinley High School's building "A," another historic site, cost $13 million, about $6 to $8 million more than if they had demolished it and put up a new one.

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