POST: TheThree years after its dedication, a highly touted University of Hawaii science building still has three unfinished floors, one that's empty and one with unusable laboratories.
'I've grown old waitingBlunders may threaten grants
for this building to be
occupied,' says one dean
By Helen Altonn
The Pacific Ocean Science and Technology Center has been plagued with problems since construction began in 1993 -- five years after the original completion date.
"I've grown old waiting for this building to be occupied," sighed C. Barry Raleigh, dean of SOEST, the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.
"Every little thing seems to take forever and costs more," said John Mahoney, a geology-geophysics professor and researcher who has waited three years to use a defective new isotope laboratory.
"It's a dismal situation," he said.
UH administrators referred inquiries about the building to the state Department of Accounting and General Services.
In a written statement from his department responding to questions, Comptroller Raymond Sato said it was "a very difficult building to design and construct" because of the science and laboratory requirements.
"The cost of the original construction contract exceeded the funds available and it was necessary to complete the improvements in several phases," he said.
The project began with $22 million from the state and $20 million from the federal government. The Navy provided $6 million for equipment.
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, credited with getting the federal money, said at the dedication: "Hawaii will finally take its rightful place in the world of science."
But the money ran out with the long delays and inflation, and only four of the eight floors were completed. The other four were lofted -- left as empty shells.
Original construction costs of $37 million have climbed to nearly $52 million during three phases of improvements, according to DAGS. The state has paid for everything since the initial federal contribution, for a total of $32 million.
Scientists began moving in and holding classes on the completed floors but complained of noisy rooms and vibrations from air conditioning, structural and other deficiencies.
DAGS said the university hasn't identified any recent air conditioning problems but faculty members say the system is still erratic and rooms are noisy.
"Some classrooms are too hot and others painfully cold," Mahoney said.
Construction is expected to begin this month on the lofted basement, first and fifth floors with completion expected next August.
The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, Ocean Engineering Department and MarBEC, the Marine Bioproducts Engineering Center, will occupy the first floor and share laboratories in the basement.
Moving to the fifth floor will be the planetary geosciences group, now in the Sinclair Library basement.
The fourth floor will house the International Pacific Research Center, established in 1997 by the United States and Japan for climate research. It was recently finished after many delays.
Kathleen Cutshaw, SOEST director of administration, said there have been a lot of holdups, but fire alarms in one mechanical core have been the major problem since tests April 17.
"The fire marshal found discrepancies, and there was an ensuing 'who's responsible?' game we went through," she said. "There are so many layers of bureaucracy."
She said DAGS "finally broke it loose," saying the fire alarm system was in the contract and the contractor had to pay.
DAGS said an additional pressure sensor was required by the Fire Department and the contractor corrected the discrepancy.
Raleigh said the telecom system must be plugged in and wires hooked up for computers on the fourth floor.
"Other than that, I see no impediments. I'm always an optimist about this with absolutely no reason to be," he said.
More serious issues linger on the sixth floor because of air conditioning, hood and airflow problems in what are supposed to be "clean labs" needed for delicate analytical isotope chemistry, Raleigh said.
"That floor has been open over three years, and those labs can't be occupied," he said.
Cutshaw said clean labs can't have any metal and they were full of it when originally built.
"They had to be torn apart and rebuilt," she said.
Revision of drawings to increase the air flow is expected to take nine to 12 weeks, she said.
"The scientists lowered their requirements to make this happen. Other isotope labs around the country have specifications similar to what they asked for," she said. "Here, they say they can't do it."
Each increment of POST had to be submitted for competitive bidding, resulting in three different contractors: K D Construction Inc. for the sixth floor; Stan's Contracting Inc., fourth floor; and DICK Pacific (formerly Fletcher Pacific) for the basement, first and fifth floors.
"They don't know what the other guy before them has done, or the building system," Cutshaw said. "It's a learning curve each time someone comes in."
She was surprised that DAGS cited a construction time of 240 working days under the contract for the basement, first floor and fifth floor.
It took 1-1/2 years to finish just the fourth floor, she said. "And the basement is nothing but wet labs. It wasn't plumbed properly in the first place for drainage for wet labs, so they have to do something with the slab down there."
The basement floor also was built with a double pneumatic seal to prevent ground water from seeping in, so the builders have to be very careful not to puncture it when they put plumbing in for drainage, she said.
"It's not going to be straightforward, like offices," Cut shaw said.
Marvin Enokawa, UH Office of Research Services director and fiscal intermediary between UH and the federal government on the project, said federal officials are interested because of the federal dollars involved.
"They have visited DAGS and gone over some DAGS numbers and books," he said. "They did not raise, to my knowledge, any great concerns, but they will hold the university responsible for final accounting."
Despite improvements totaling about $431,500, a new isotope laboratory in the University of Hawaii's Pacific Ocean Science and Technology Center remains vacant.
UH lab blunders
By Helen Altonn
The sixth floor lab "supposedly was finished" three years ago, said John Mahoney, geology and geophysics professor and researcher.
"It was not what we asked for -- not even close," he said.
It didn't meet "clean room" standards, requiring positive pressure and highly filtered air to keep out dust and other inorganic contaminants, Mahoney said.
Attempting to correct the problems, the Department of Accounting and General Services said all exposed metal fixtures and surfaces were replaced; exhaust and supply air and supply air conditioning ducts were modified, and a new exhaust fan installed.
"Only nonferrous materials and special protective coatings had to be used," DAGS said.
But DAGS couldn't explain why metal was used in the first place. It said clean room requirements were given to the consultants during building design.
"We are presently investigating the complex issues of who was responsible for ensuring that the design and construction of the facility conformed to the program's requirements," DAGS said in a written statement.
Mahoney, who will use the isotope lab with colleague Ken Rubin, said nothing has been done to it since April or May.
"It needs a very carefully designed high efficiency air filter system, and that was not done properly," he said.
DAGS said design drawings are being prepared for an additional booster fan for the lab's air conditioning system to ensure positive air pressure.
However, it isn't possible to provide the amount of pressure requested by the scientists because air locks would be needed and there is no space for them, DAGS said.
The consultant designed for standard pressure and the researchers agreed to it, although it's lower than desired.
"If they'd only asked us about this in 1992 or 1993, we could have solved the problem," Mahoney said. "There was a lack of any communication with the scientists after telling us initially they would work with us.
"The current people are blaming people involved earlier ... There is a total lack of accountability," Mahoney said. "It's very frustrating. It has compromised our ability to do the kind of research we want to do.
The geophysicists are doing fundamental research, making isotope measurements of elements to increase understanding of the Earth's interior and the solar system.
They've been using a clean lab built in 1987 in the neighboring Hawaii Institute of Geophysics and Planetology.
It's too small for the number of scientists and students wanting to use it and it badly needs repairs, said Khal Spencer, associate specialist in geology-geophysics and lab manager.
"We haven't had to give any (research) money back yet," Mahoney said, "but it will happen at some point. It's more a case of things we were not able to do ... some new techniques we wanted to develop. We can't without a (new) lab."
Spencer said there were "too many cooks" involved in the POST project. If the isotope lab had been built the way Mahoney planned it, he said, "It would be tremendous ... one of the best labs in the world."
As it is, Mahoney said, "We wonder if this place is going to work when it's finished. They've made it so complicated.
"This is the kind of thing that affects morale," he said. "The UH doesn't make you feel too welcome sometimes. The best people have opportunities and leave."
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