Kokua Line

June Watanabe

Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Kamamalu state
offices will be rebuilt

Question: The state relocated its Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs to the state's portion of the King Kalakaua Building (the old federal post office building) on Merchant Street last month. What are the state's plans for renovating and restoring the Princess Victoria Kamamalu Building at South King and Richards streets? How long will it take, and who will occupy the building, which sits in the heart of historic Honolulu? I'd hate to see it deteriorate right in the shadow of Iolani Palace.

Answer: The 46-year-old former Hawaiian Trust Building, purchased by the state in 1968 for $2.5 million, already has deteriorated to the point where it needs to be gutted, redesigned and rebuilt.

The now-vacant building will be boarded up until state funds for renovation become available, which may not be for at least three years, according to state Comptroller Russ Saito, head of the Department of Accounting & General Services.

The state hopes to eventually reoccupy the building with workers now dispersed in leased private space, but to do so, "we will have to essentially gut the building -- remove all the asbestos, change out all of the air conditioning, replace the elevators and clean up the shafts," he said.

It is "a high-maintenance, deteriorating building" that can't be worked on a little at a time, he said. But work on the estimated $12 million-plus project won't be starting any time soon.

"Based on the total number of projects we have already identified for the supplemental budget year, which is next year, it really doesn't look like we can afford to do it," Saito said.

When he became comptroller a year ago, there was money for workers "to move out and money to renovate the old post office building," he said.

The state administration could request money during next year's legislative session, but based upon the current economy, the chances of getting construction funds are slim, he said.

A better time might be in 2005, Saito said. If the economy looks better then, renovation funds could be requested for the 2006-07 budget. But even if funds were appropriated then, it would probably take a while longer before work could begin, Saito said.

The building is not on the state register of historic places, but the state is not considering tearing it down.

The building has "a pretty big footprint" and abuts the sidewalk, Saito noted. Under current zoning codes, it would have to be set back from the sidewalk, which means less space. Also, because it is in the Capital District, it would have to comply with other restrictions, including height.

"So there is no way that you could, practically, build a new building there," at least not with the needed square footage, he said.

The building features ceramic tile kahili and feather cape mosaics in the stairwell area created by well-known Hawaii artists Harue McVay and Claude Horan.

"In general, we would try to preserve the historic and aesthetic features of the building," Saito said, but that might hinge on factors such as the presence of asbestos.


See the Columnists section for some past articles.

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