CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
City Councilman Todd Apo went on a walk-through at the Walter Murray Gibson Building last week.
Officials get a close-up view of the damage at the deteriorating Walter Murray Gibson Building
City Council officials avoided a muddy flood-prone basement, trash cans collecting drips from a leaky roof, water-stained carpet and dangling wires at a city-owned building.
And then Real Property Assessment Division Administrator Gary Kurokawa cautioned: "Don't step on the traps, now."
The baited rat trap was next to a microwave oven cart in the Walter Murray Gibson Building.
Kurokawa was among about a half-dozen city administration officials leading Council Budget Chairman Todd Apo and an aide to Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall last week on a tour of the Gibson building to show what one official called the "deplorable" conditions there.
The city administration is asking for $5.1 million to renovate the interior of the historic building.
Apo said there's no question that the Gibson Building needs to be repaired -- and repaired soon.
"We need to get that place fixed up -- it's very evident in taking a walk through it and seeing what's going on," Apo said. "I think the priority needs to be the water damage because that's only going to cause greater deterioration and faster if we don't deal with it."
But he added that another historical building needs attention too: Honolulu Hale.
"I think City Hall remains a very high priority -- the building itself is important not only from a historical standpoint but from a message of what is city government for Honolulu, so we can't ignore it," Apo said. "Clearly we need to take care of things that will cost the city more money down the road."
Talk of renovating and reconfiguring the office space at the nearly 80-year-old Honolulu Hale has been ongoing since 2004. The building has its own share of problems attributed to its age: a leaky roof, poor ventilation leading to mold and mildew, asbestos-laden floors and outdated building standards.
Goals for the renovation have included moving Council staff offices in the Honolulu Hale tower closer to council members on the second floor, a move motivated in part by a law mandating a sprinkler retrofit. The renovation, according to council members, is also needed to address a lack of accessibility for those with disabilities.
"How did (the Gibson Building) get bumped up the list?" Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall wondered during recent budget hearings.
Design and Construction Director Eugene Lee said that work is also proceeding on City Hall, including roof repairs. He said working conditions at the Gibson Building are far less than ideal. Marshall said the same can be said for City Hall.
Part of the challenge at both buildings is that the historical architectural features can't be altered. For example, dim lighting at the Gibson building can't be upgraded because of the nearby decorative ceiling and beams.
Last year's consistent rain heightened the water problems at both buildings.
Lee said the problems at Gibson were well known to the employees but it wasn't until the past few months -- after the rains -- that the concerns made it up the chain of command.
Roof repairs at Gibson are also moving forward but the city doesn't have enough money to finish the $400,000 roof job all at once, needing additional funding to complete the work.
But when finished, city officials say, the roof repairs should take care of the majority of the problems at Gibson.
On all three floors and in the basement, employees from room to room had similar war stories: dodging water-soaked ceilings that had caved in, water seeping through walls, trash cans catching leaks, computer cables and electrical wiring dangling from above, soaked carpets with wiring running beneath, termite-eaten original wood paneling and signs of a rat infestation.
"We used to get one or two (rats) every day," one employee remarked.
After last year's rain, offices were ripe with the odor of dankness and mold.
If the Gibson renovation is approved, employees will have to be relocated for 16 months.
Apo said that with finding space for Gibson relocation and proposals for expanding city departments that include adding nearly 50 employees for two new transit-related offices, it might be a good time to start discussions on whether a new city office tower might be needed, preferably in West Oahu, which Apo represents.
"That alleviates some of the space and cost pressures in town if we had something like that," he said. "Obviously that's a longer-term decision that needs to be made that we need to plan for financially."
A new office building could also provide the long-term cost savings because the facility would be new and not be prone to the kind of costly renovations associated with aging facilities.
"It's not in a situation where we can just walk away from these (older) places. You're going to need to pour some monies into these because they are historical buildings," Apo said.
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About the building
Facts about the Walter Murray Gibson Building:
» Located at Bethel and Merchant streets
» Completed in 1931 in the Spanish mission revival style
» Opened as the Honolulu Police Station headquarters and also housed District Court operations early 1980s
» Renovated in 1986; city agencies moved into the building in 1987
» Currently houses the various functions of four city agencies: Real Property Assessment Division, Department of Community Services, Corporation Counsel and license plate storage for the Motor Vehicle and Licensing Division