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Mosaic project seen as wasteful


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POSTED: Sunday, February 08, 2009

Hawaii's centerpiece work of art is meant to represent the islands and the ocean - not government waste.

But critics of the $1.5 million renovation to the “;Aquarius”; mosaic in the floor of the state Capitol's open-air rotunda argue that taxpayers shouldn't be footing the bill for an abstract public art display when the state is running short of money.

Others view the mosaic as a prominent state treasure that must be maintained.

The 36-foot-diameter circular mosaic, whose green ovals of land on a sea-blue background had faded and cracked from years of rain, is temporarily hidden from public view beneath a large tent erected in October when work on the project began.

Its 6 million tiles have been removed, and new ones were bought in Italy for assembly by a German company that won the state's no-bid contract. The new mosaic will be a meticulous re-creation of Maui artist Tadashi Sato's original work.

“;It's so expensive because no one else bid on it, and no one looked for a less costly alternative,”; said Pearl Hahn, who listed the mosaic renovations as an example of government waste in the Grassroot Institute's “;2009 Hawaii Pork Report.”;

The renovation is being done to replace the old tiles, lay a waterproof foundation and install a drainage system to remove water from the exhibit, which was originally completed in 1970.

“;Failure to restore this mosaic would be wasteful,”; said Ron Yamakawa, executive director of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. “;To allow this work of art to deteriorate would be a great loss to the people of Hawaii in a cultural, spiritual and fiscal sense.”;

A $427,0000 no-bid contract was awarded to a German company that has specialized in architectural glass and mosaics since the 1800s, Franz Mayer of Munich.

The state decided to hire the company without a bidding process because “;two previous installations utilizing the low-bid procurement system were below the aesthetic expectations of the SFCA and have failed due to poor materials and workmanship,”; according to the State Procurement Office's April 2007 notice of exemption.

“;The art lovers want the art taken care of, and I can understand that, but I don't think the restoration of that tile should have cost that much or taken so long,”; said Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai). “;Where's our transparency in government? It's inexcusable. It doesn't make economic sense.”;

The restoration project is funded by the state's Works of Art Special Fund, which requires 1 percent of capital improvement appropriations be used for the acquisition and maintenance of works of art, Yamakawa said.

It's being handled by the state Department of Accounting and General Services, which is responsible for management of the Capitol grounds.

A previous replacement of Sato's most famous work cost about $200,000 in 1988, Yamakawa said. Sato consulted on the mosaic replacement before his death in 2005.

A local contractor has been installing drainage, waterproofing and mortar boards after workers removed the old tiles.

The new tiles are less than half the size of the old ones to give the mosaic more detail and depth. They'll be flown to Hawaii next month and reassembled by the Germans like a puzzle.

“;The renovated mosaic will be more expressive of Tadashi Sato's original vision, and it will surely continue to attract admirers from around the world,”; Yamakawa said.

Work is scheduled for completion in July.