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New lab to house ocean studies


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POSTED: Thursday, April 16, 2009

The University of Hawaii at Manoa broke ground yesterday on a $22 million research building, the first new laboratory space to be constructed on campus in a decade.

The building will house the Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education, or C-MORE, and the research of UH oceanographer and microbiologist David Karl.

Karl's research, focusing on the smallest life forms in the ocean, has brought in more than $48 million to the university through his three decades at Manoa.

The building will be one of 17 National Science Foundation centers of science and technology across the nation.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye praised the new center, noting that when he started his college career, ambitious students wanted to go elsewhere to get a top educational experience.

“;We're going to change that,”; he said.

In 2006, the National Science Foundation awarded a $19 million, five-year grant to UH and other universities for the C-MORE project to conduct research into marine microorganisms, including what role they play in climate change and sustaining life on Earth. Part of the grant will also pay for educational outreach efforts and to try and motivate students in underrepresented groups to study science and engineering.

The cost of constructing the new building will come from research funds, not taxpayer money. Earlier this month, the university issued $100 million in bonds for construction projects and to acquire student housing to be paid back by research grants, student housing fees, bookstore revenues and other sources.

The new construction also comes as the university is updating its estimate of needed repair and maintenance for existing buildings.

Last year, the university estimated that its aging facilities needed $351 million for repairs and upgrades of electrical, air conditioning and other systems and that the backlog was growing by about $60 million a year.

The state Senate is proposing to spend $118.6 million next year on repairs and health and safety projects at UH and could appropriate more money for 2011, while the House is proposing to spend $154 million over two years.

“;For us, a major priority is to kind of work down the backlog,”; said Sen. Jill Tokuda, Senate Higher Education Committee chairwoman. “;I think this will hopefully help stimulate the economy as well.”;

Federal stimulus funds could also help the university, although the $35 million available must be split between UH and the state Department of Education.