Defects still plague two floors of the Pacific Ocean Science and Technology Center after nine years of construction.

Problems keep shut
2 floors of UH center

Researchers at the ocean science
center say the state ignored
their complaints

By Helen Altonn

After nine years of construction, the University of Hawaii's Pacific Ocean Science and Technology Center still has two floors that can't be occupied, according to scientists waiting to use them.

At least one scientist left the university disgusted by failed attempts to correct defects in a sixth-floor isotope laboratory.

University of Hawaii

"For whatever reason, the Department of Accounting and General Services accepted the lab" a few weeks ago from the contractor, said Kathleen Cutshaw, director of administration for the School of Ocean and Earth Sciences and Technology.

She said SOEST personnel had no opportunity to do a walkthrough of the floor before DAGS accepted it.

"We got possession of it and did an inspection of it ourselves," she said. "We're still unable to occupy it. We requested that the deficiencies be fixed by the UH, which now has full responsibility for it."

State Comptroller Glenn Okimoto said DAGS conducted a final inspection Jan. 16 with UH coordinators and geophysicist John Mahoney.

"The scientists did not convey dissatisfaction at the final inspection," Okimoto said.

Mahoney wants to use the isotope lab with fellow scientist Ken Rubin. Colleague Khal Spencer tired of waiting for the facility and went to the mainland.

"It's incredibly frustrating, and if things don't change, we will lose more than Khal," Mahoney said. "It's sad ... a huge waste of time and talent and money."

He said the scientists' memos regarding the lab's defects were ignored and they heard conflicting stories about the situation from a DAGS inspector and UH facilities people.

"Everybody is sort of blaming each other," Mahoney said.

Allan Ah San, associate vice president for UH administration, said: "It has to be sorted out. We need to sit down internally and look at what needs to be done and have a discussion with DAGS. We need to get together to get the occupants into (the floor)."

Cutshaw said the first and fifth floors were also turned over to UH a few weeks ago from DAGS and scientists will be moving in soon. But she said no one can move into the basement, which has all the labs, because DAGS has not signed off on it due to issues with the air handling system.

The planetary geosciences group, now in the Sinclair Library basement, will move to POST's fifth floor. The Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, Ocean Engineering Department and the Marine Bioproducts Engineering Center will occupy the first floor and use laboratories in the basement.

The vacant sixth floor has been a chronic headache, with repeated attempts over the years to correct deficiencies in the isotope lab.

It's supposed to be a "clean" room, with positive pressure and highly filtered air to prevent dust and other inorganic contaminants from damaging sensitive research projects.

The scientists are making isotope measurements of elements to study the Earth's interior and solar system.

In the latest sixth-floor remedial project, Cutshaw said, the floor and countertops were damaged during construction and not repaired.

She said dampers in the fume hoods shut down automatically when a power outage occurs, and when power starts up, a negative feed sucks all the air from the hallway into the room. The fume hoods need to be restarted manually to make sure everything is right, she said.

Unless those items are fixed, she said that Mahoney feels the lab isn't functional.

"So, it'll sit there until DAGS and UH resolve it," Cutshaw said.

She said Mahoney has, throughout the whole process, told the builders what the scientists need to conduct their research.

"The bottom line is now in the hands of the university," Mahoney said, adding, "Nobody's too bothered about getting it done in any reasonable time frame."

Okimoto said SOEST hasn't conveyed its objections to DAGS through official UH channels.

"We have determined that the contract work is completed," he said, "and will close out the contract unless the UH Planning Office requests that we provide added work, and if such added work is technically and contractually feasible at this late date."

Construction of the ocean and earth science building began with $22 million in state money and $20 million from the federal government. The Navy provided $6 million for equipment.

At least three previous improvement projects drove up costs.

Asked about total costs to date, Okimoto listed only $755,579 for the last sixth-floor repairs contract by K D Construction, Inc.

Asked who is going to fix the sixth-floor problems and who is going to pay for it, Okimoto said, "As of now, there is nothing to pay for."

Mahoney said the building still has problems that were there when SOEST moved in.

He said relatively minor problems are continuing with some labs and plumbing and that the air-conditioning still isn't right in all parts of the building. People are baking in some areas and freezing in others, he said.

University of Hawaii

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