Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Painter Tony Bonilla worked on some touch-ups Friday in classrooms at Castle High School.

Volunteers key
to sprucing up
dingy campuses

A long repair backlog leaves many schools
looking for donated supplies and workers

By Crystal Kua

The sun shines brighter on the Waianae Intermediate School campus due to a new coat of white paint.

"The sun reflects off the back of the building," Vice Principal Bryan Loo said. "A lot more sunlight bounces off the walls. It's very nice."

The new image of the school's largest building -- which was dingy before an Oct. 20 community project -- has sparked a new attitude at the Leeward Coast school, especially among students, who have been taking greater pride and care of their surroundings, Loo said.

With deferred school repair and maintenance projects estimated last legislative session at $640 million, state officials hope that more schools will begin to look like Waianae Intermediate as hundreds of millions of dollars are poured into attacking the backlog.

Nearly $132 million in bonds and cash appropriated during the 2001 regular session and last year's final special session will bring the backlog down to about $550 million by the end of the year, said James Richardson, chief of the Central Services Division of the state Department of Accounting & General Services, which oversees repair and maintenance of public schools.

Vice Principal Larry Biggs showed off some classroom renovations. The light fixtures and tubes are new, as are the chalkboards and louvers.

The governor has asked lawmakers to approve an additional $255 million this year. If that is approved, the backlog could be reduced to $369 million by July 1, 2004.

After that, if repair and maintenance annual funding remains at $70 million per year -- to take care of old and new projects -- the backlog could get down to $167 million by 2007.

But lawmakers are keeping an eye on whether the backlog is decreasing quickly enough.

"It's coming down, but I think we still have to iron some things out, counting the right things and assuring the taxpayers and the legislators that the money is being spent wisely," said Sen. Norman Sakamoto, who heads the Senate Education Committee and is a general contractor and engineer.

Within five weeks, the state is planning to put out for bid contracts to renovate entire classroom buildings at 40 schools statewide at a total cost of $64 million, Richardson said.

Sakamoto is not sure how many of the repair projects are new vs. lingering older projects.

Richardson said that with 1.8 billion square feet of school facilities to take care of, there is an additional $50 million worth of repair and maintenance projects that come on line each year.

Sakamoto said that with all the attention and dollars school repair and maintenance have received over the past couple of sessions, he would like to see things move faster, and there may be legislation to revamp the process and make it more efficient. "Myself and many others are frustrated with the mechanics of 'Here's the money. Get it done,'" he said.

Richardson said the department is moving quickly to put out bids and get the projects rolling. "We're just passionate about helping the schools ... and we're trying to do the most with the money the Legislature gave us," he said.

The painting of three Waianae Intermediate classroom buildings was the project of a new program called the Hawaii 3Rs -- Repair Remodel Restore -- which was started by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and which received $500,000 in funding from the Legislature last year. The same measure also allows companies to receive a tax credit for donated work done at the schools.

Hawaii 3Rs awards up to $25,000 in grants to public schools that are able to assemble private contributions and/or volunteer "sweat equity" equal to the amount of the grant.

"Our main goal is to get the community back into the schools," said Ann-Maile Yamasaki, Hawaii 3Rs executive director.

Hawaii 3Rs also recently completed painting classrooms, a choir building and locker rooms at Wahiawa Middle School. First-round grants have also been awarded to Roosevelt High School, Baldwin High and Kapunahala Elementary.

Yamasaki said about the only problem has been working out the bugs in the application process, but Hawaii 3Rs has been assisting schools with the process, even finding volunteers and private companies willing to help when schools cannot.

The projects that get funded are those that can get completed in a weekend or two -- like painting -- that are in the backlog but so far down the priority list that they might never get done, Yamasaki said.

The Hawaii 3Rs method has also saved the state money, Yamasaki said. For example, the Waianae project was originally estimated at $104,000, but the job was done for $24,200 with help from150 volunteers and discounts from a painting company and equipment supplier.

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