STAR-BULLETIN / DECEMBER 2004
The University of Hawaii's Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island is a unique facility that attracts scientists from around the world for research on coral reefs, marine animals and the coastal environment.
UH marine lab in need of repairs
Kaneohe facilities are dilapidated and designs are under way for a new building
The University of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology's old buildings on Coconut Island "are falling apart," says director Jo-Ann C. Leong.
"I am very worried about it," she said, pointing out the institute in Kaneohe Bay is a unique facility that attracts scientists from around the world for research on coral reefs, marine animals and the coastal environment.
However, the three-story administration/laboratory building was constructed in 1965 and constant exposure to sea air has taken a heavy toll, she said.
The institute was told last year by architects Ferraro Choi and Associates that if something wasn't done within four years to renovate the building, "we won't be able to rescue it," she said.
The only major construction at HIMB since 1965 was a marine laboratory funded by the Edwin W. Pauley Foundation and dedicated in October 1998.
Air-conditioning has been a major problem at the Pauley laboratory, costing close to $300,000 a year, Leong said.
The Legislature approved $31 million in revenue bonds this year for the institute over the next two years for renovations and other changes to reduce energy use, she said.
But the revenue bonds, unlike general obligation bonds, would have to be paid back by the institute or the university through the research money the facility attracts.
Leong said she hopes to convince the UH administration that Coconut Island generates enough money and does important enough work that it's worth borrowing $8 million in revenue bonds to construct a new building. She said a new building is needed so people will have somewhere to work when the present facilities are renovated.
Kathleen Cutshaw, acting vice chancellor for administration, finance and operations in the Manoa Chancellor's Office, said Leong "has hired good scientists" and the institute "is poised to do a lot of good science in the ocean."
But she said the university can't afford to build the project by itself and will also need some taxpayer-financed general obligation bonds.
Renovations also will require going to the state for help, Cutshaw said, because the UH is $100 million behind in other deferred maintenance at the Manoa campus.
Leong said Gov. Linda Lingle released $1 million out of $2 million authorized in general obligation bonds to design a new HIMB building.
Ferraro and Choi, which designed a National Science Foundation lab for the South Pole, is designing the new building, she said.
It would be located opposite the Pauley Marine Laboratory, with seven pre-fabricated low laboratories and individual walkways, diffused lighting and rooftops allowing thermal cooling, Leong said.
Amphitheater seating would be provided for student and community groups that visit the island through the laboratory's docent program.
The design would be portable to make such facilities available to American Samoa, Micronesia or other places in the Pacific, Leong said.
The marine biology institute has undergone significant changes since Leong, a nationally recognized specialist on viral diseases in salmon, trout and aquatic animals, returned here to become director in September 2001.
She recruited five scientists specializing in different facets of molecular biology for a total of 11 HIMB tenured-track faculty members. Many others work there as affiliate faculty and assistant researchers.
Leong said the facility had 25 to 30 graduate students when she started and now there are 60 to 70. Research grants have grown to $16 million from about $5 million. "HIMB is the only place in the world, the entire world, where we have a facility like the Pauley building to do cutting-edge work within 30 feet of the coral reef," Leong said, noting the Caribbean "is in serious trouble" because its coral reef is so affected.
Changes from human activities also are causing problems with Hawaii's reefs and coastal environment, she said.
"HIMB is uniquely positioned to study those changes and help develop solutions, and that's what we should be doing for the state of Hawaii."