Kakaako may get new bio lab
If approved, the $37.5 million facility would conduct research on infectious diseases
A $37.5 million, state-of-the-art biocontainment laboratory originally slated for Pearl City will be built in Kakaako as part of the University of Hawaii School of Medicine's second phase, officials announced this week.
If approved by the National Institutes of Health, the facility would be a regional laboratory for research on emerging infectious diseases, such as dengue fever or bioterrorism agents.
It would be a Biosafety Level 3 facility. According to the Centers for Disease Control Web site, a Level 3 facility can handle "indigenous or exotic agents which may cause serious or potentially lethal disease." Strict standards must be met for the facility to handle Level 3 substances.
Pearl City residents have long raised concerns about the lab being built adjacent to the state Department of Health facility on Waimano Home Road, saying it was a potential safety hazard for those who live in the area.
"Clearly, there were community concerns about a lab being built up above a residential area," state Sen. David Ige, who represents Pearl City, said yesterday. "If there was a breach of any kind, it's close to area schools."
Ige also said that the infrastructure on Waimano Home Road is poor. He estimated that the new lab's construction would have required a $35 million overhaul to sewer and water lines and other improvements in the area.
In Kakaako, however, the costs would be much less.
The state is expected to appropriate $12.5 million for the new lab in Kakaako, which will be charged with conducting biodefense and emerging infectious diseases research.
The remaining funds to build the facility would come from the National Institutes of Health.
Ron Iwami, of Save Our Kakaako, said he would have liked more public discussion about where the lab should go.
"Our feeling is, if it's coming already we can't stop it," he said, adding that he thinks the lab will complement the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
He also said it would fit in well with the vision of Kakaako as a place for biotechnology research.
Dr. James Gaines, the university's vice president for research, said the NIH still has to approve the new site.
If the agency denies the grant, the university will not pursue it, he said. "This is a re-application," he said. "If NIH says no, then no more applications will be submitted."
The NIH had awarded UH-Manoa $25 million for the facility.
Meanwhile, Ige said community members are mulling over future options for Waimano Ridge.
"One message came out loud and clear," he said. "Residents want a say as to what kinds of things go up."
The ridge above Pearl City is currently home to a state sex offender treatment center along with storage yards and several non-profits.
A community task force has been created to discuss options for the area, and Ige said ideas have ranged from affordable senior housing to a large park.