A historic photo of the UH-Manoa Engineering Quad in the 1920s or '30s shows the Engineering Materials Testing Laboratory, the second-oldest UH building, which recently held Beau Press.
UH history blocks gym’s way
Preservationists are against plans to raze old buildings to build a recreation center
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Better fitness, recreation and campus life for students? Or preserving the University of Hawaii's history?
That is the dilemma facing administrators at UH-Manoa after plans for a new $38 million fitness center and gym next to the Campus Center ran into opposition from historic preservationists who say the university should not destroy the second-oldest building on campus in the name of progress.
But to build the two-story 56,000-square-foot facility, the university also plans to tear down the four old Engineering Quad buildings, including the Beau Press building, which was built in 1915.
An artist's rendering shows what the Campus Center would look like after Phase II is completed, as seen on the UH-Manoa Campus Center Renovation and Expansion Project Web site.
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About 100 years ago, when the University of Hawaii at Manoa was just a collection of temporary buildings next to a cow pasture, Hawaii College engineering professors John Mason Young and Arthur Keller began planning a permanent campus.
The first permanent building completed in 1912 was Hawaii Hall, which has been renovated and serves as the administration building for the campus.
The second building -- the Engineering Materials Testing Laboratory -- designed by Keller and built for $8,146 in 1915, might be torn down next year.
In its place next to the Campus Center, UH-Manoa plans to build a $38 million, two-story student fitness center and gym with an indoor jogging track, weight room, dance and aerobics studios, cardio room and two courts for intramural basketball and volleyball.
It is a facility that regular students and faculty will not have to share with the athletic department and might become a center of campus life.
But before plans proceed, UH-Manoa must get the approval of the state Historic Preservation Division, which says the buildings the university wants to tear down are historic and should be preserved if possible.
In a letter to UH-Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, the Historic Hawai'i Foundation, a private group that advocates for historic preservation, urged the university to reassess its plans and design the student center around the old buildings.
"It is especially important that the university not discard its historic legacy in a headlong rush to embrace only that which is shiny and new, especially in this, the university's centennial year," Executive Director Kiersten Faulkner wrote in a July 24 letter.
The buildings, Faulkner said, "tell the story of how the Manoa campus developed and really the history of higher learning in Hawaii."
Roy Yamachi of KYA Design Group, the firm hired to design the project, known as the Campus Center Phase II, said the location of the new gym, next to the Campus Center building, is key to the project's success.
"The Campus Center wants to be in the center for student life, so this would add to the student life," Yamachi said. "If it's not near the Campus Center, then it's somewhat compromised."
"If the building has to be placed on the outskirts of campus, that raises some problems," said Grant Teichman, the incoming president of the Campus Center Board. "The reason why that site was picked was for safety and security reasons," Teichman said, noting that since there is a lot of foot traffic, students will not have to walk alone to and from the site.
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Plans for a student recreation center could imperil old UH buildings. This is the view of the Engineering Quad as seen from the Campus Center on the UH campus, which includes the former Engineering Materials Testing Laboratory, the second-oldest building on campus; the building that houses the UH campus paper Ka Leo; and the large monkeypod tree in the middle. The tree and courtyard are not affected in the plans.
A historic photograph shows the Engineering Quad in 1920. Hawaii Hall is the I-shaped building in the center.
Students are already paying for the construction of the new gym through increased Campus Center fees, which went up by about $52 last fall and again this fall to pay for construction bonds. Fees are currently $194 per academic year and will be rising for the next three years.
The design work is supposed to start this fall, and construction and demolition of the Engineering Quad is tentatively scheduled for next fall, if the university can get the necessary permits, said Bruce Teramoto, a university architect and the project manager for the Campus Center addition.
Faulkner said the Historic Hawai'i Foundation wants the university to redesign the project to save the old Engineering Quad.
Pua Aiu, administrator of the state Historic Preservation Division, said her office is working with the university to try to balance the needs of students and the need to preserve history.
"We are reluctant to see them (the Engineering Quad buildings) demolished," she said.
"We are in discussions with the university about it," Aiu said. "We are looking for ways to mitigate the harm. The question is what is going to be the mitigation."
University administrators said they are hopeful some kind of compromise can be reached.
Teramoto said one possibility under discussion is to save one or two of the Engineering Quad buildings -- perhaps the Ka Leo and Student Support Services buildings. But, he said, the former materials lab, now the Beau Press building, would likely still need to be demolished.
Aiu said, "We think it ironic that they want to destroy the original engineering buildings in their 100th anniversary."
But College of Engineering Dean Peter Crouch said, simply, "It's progress."
Crouch, who is helping plan celebrations for the centennial of the College of Engineering, said, "There is some sentimental value."
But, he said, "My sense is it (the Engineering Quad) is the type of thing that does need to be renewed. ... We need competitive facilities. If it (the new gym) helps get more students to enroll, then the college is going to benefit."
Students and faculty also have mixed opinions about tearing down the Engineering Quad.
"I think its important to preserve history," said freshman Sean McLemore, who said he is also opposed to raising student fees to pay for the new recreation center and gym.
But junior Russell Pederson said, "I would use the new student rec center, whereas I have no enjoyment of the second-oldest building. ... If it was the first oldest, the oldest building, that would be different."
"I'm all right with their progress, but they got to find me a place to go (after it is torn down)," said janitor Ben Aspili, who has an office in one of the Engineering Quad buildings.
Changes would affect old sites
When completed in 1928, the five buildings that made up the Engineering Quad formed an "H" that could be seen from above. The oldest building, the Engineering Materials Testing Laboratory, is in the center.
The Engineering Quad was the home of the Engineering School until 1959, when Keller Hall was completed. In 1972 the College of Engineering moved to Holmes Hall.
One of the five buildings that make up the "H" was torn down in the mid-1970s to make room for the Campus Center building. The remaining buildings now form a "4," but the outline of what was the "H" can still be seen.
The old Engineering Quad now consists of the Beau Press building, which is empty; Ka Leo, the student newspaper; the Board of Publications; Student Support Services; Duplicating Services; and a janitor's office.
Some trees and two portables, which house PEACESAT and Center on the Family offices, would also be demolished to make room for the new recreation center and gym.