Saturday, November 3, 2001


Dobelle house
under scrutiny

Many critics question university
approval for renovation funding

By Treena Shapiro

The skyrocketing cost of renovating and furnishing the University of Hawaii president's residence at College Hill is drawing criticism from throughout the UH community, including Evan Dobelle himself, who will occupy the home with his wife and son.

"This thing did not happen the way it was supposed to happen," the UH president said yesterday from California.

Earlier this week, the university revealed that renovating the main house and guest cottage will cost about $1 million by the time construction is completed later this month. That's well above an original estimate of $150,000.

By the time work started in July, when Dobelle became president, the contracts were expected to cost $494,633, but several modifications have put the tab closer to $700,000 and the bills are still coming in.

Members of the UH community question why the university OK'd such a costly project.

"They can spend money up to a point, but a voluminous amount of money is a little gratuitous. Even half that is too expensive," said sophomore Mike Campbell. "I mean, if they set a budget on it, they should stick to it."

University officials say the original plan was to renovate the guest cottage in the spring, so that Dobelle and his family could live in the one-bedroom cottage while the renovations were done on the main house.

The bottom floor of the main house is used for public gatherings, while the Dobelles occupy the three-bedroom space on the top floor.

However, the guest house was in use until former president Kenneth Mortimer retired in June, so the Dobelles lived in a UH Foundation condominium for two months while both units were renovated.

"This was not done at my request," Dobelle said, pointing out that the university regents offered him use of the home when he was hired in March.

The president said that he did ask that some projects slated for later in his term be moved up -- such as a $92,343 roofing job -- so that work would not continue after he moved in.

"If you're going to do it, do it all and do it right because I don't want it done under my watch," he said he told planners.

He said he did not want renovations to interfere with public events held in the main house, such as a Thanksgiving dinner he is hosting for about 200 students who will be spending the holiday on campus.

Communication between the university and contractors indicate that Dobelle's wife, Kit, was involved in the interior design of the home.

Dobelle said that he was concerned about where the money to pay for the projects would come from, and he insisted that it not be taken out of student fees and tuition.

He said he has already raised $50,000 from a historical foundation interested in helping preserve the home. "There are people who look at the house not just as a president's house, but one of the more historical buildings in Hawaii."

Still, some question the College Hill project at a time when the state's economy and the UH budget are suffering.

"I think the university should do a better job at planning these buildings or renovations so that it doesn't cost much more than originally planned," said Belinda Aquino, Center for Philippine Studies director.

Aquino said that the planners should be held accountable for the cost overrun, which she has noticed happening with other university buildings.

But she added that she could understand renovating the home, "especially if the renovations lead to preventing future damages that might end up costing more."

Economics student Tomoko Kinugasa, 26, said the money could be better spent on academics or maintaining other buildings on campus, such as the one where her economic classes are housed.

"I don't think my building is good," she said. "It's very old."

Ka Leo O Hawaii
University of Hawaii

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