UH dorms and housing operation need major fixes
A state audit has found that the university's housing services fall short of the mark.
EVIDENCE of disrepair and neglect counters assertions
from an official that dorms at the University of Hawaii at Manoa are safe for students.
Though not all rooms and apartments on the flagship campus have hazardous conditions, the 190 units in Johnson Hall can't be regarded as free from danger since the building lacks sprinkler systems, a basic fire-safety feature. Apartments in Hale Noelani can't be considered safe when elevated walkways need wooden supports to hold them together. Nor can rooms with mold and broken and leaking pipes constitute a healthy living environment.
Still, Chancellor Denise Konan "firmly" disagrees with a state auditor's report that details poor dorm conditions and unsatisfactory management by the university's Student Housing Service. She also disagrees with state auditor Marion Higa's assessment that a $71 million residence hall now under construction might not be necessary and that the bidding process for it might have been flawed.
The audit faulted the university for allowing dorms to fall into disrepair with an estimated backlog of $45 million in needed restoration while being engrossed in putting up new buildings. Though UH has $100 million in revenue bonds available for renovations and new construction, no repair plans were put on track until the audit was initiated.
The audit also attributed part of the problem to the lack of a permanent director for housing services, pointing out that since the last director was dismissed in 2003 the position has been filled by three interim managers. Of those, two had held other housing services jobs and were responsible for continuing those duties as well. Moreover, the university doesn't have a comprehensive maintenance and repair program. These need correcting.
The audit found that contrary to popular notions about a shortage of dorm space, occupancy rates averaged 87 percent through most of the past six years, resulting in a loss of revenue to the agency that depends on housing fees for all of its operations. The university should update and improve how it assigns dorm rooms to boost occupancy, as the audit recommends.
UH officials and the Board of Regents should review how they came up with projections of housing needs, taking into account the formula that the audit calls questionable and considering the effects of expanding the West Oahu campus, which might ease housing demands at Manoa.
As for the recommendation to give campus security officers police powers, including carrying firearms, UH officials should wait until its new security chief, installed last year, completes his plan before acting. However, part of that plan should be to eliminate contracting outside security guards -- as other university departments now do -- which adds to confusion and crosses lines of authority.
Meanwhile, state legislators should take a hard look at the awarding of a contract for the new residence hall. The audit found that when bids were first put out, the requirements were for companies that could "finance, design, build and possibly manage" the facility, but that when public funds became available, "finance" and "manage" were dropped from the list. That might have cut out potential bidders and raised bids too high, the audit says.