UH-West Oahu
faces crucial vote

Despite vocal misgivings from
several regents, a senator pushes
for construction money

Despite doubts expressed by several members of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents about building a $350 million West Oahu campus, state Sen. Cal Kawamoto said yesterday he will introduce legislation in January to fund the first $85 million of the construction.

University of Hawaii And university officials are moving forward with a presentation to the regents next month when the board is expected to vote on how to proceed with the project.

Kawamoto, who has long supported building a four-year UH campus on the growing Leeward side, also said he hopes students will gather signatures in support of the school.

"My understanding is that (UH) President (Evan) Dobelle has put forth a proposal, whereby the West Oahu campus would start construction in 2007," Kawamoto said.

UH administrators briefed regents on the campus plan Friday at their monthly meeting, prompting several regents to express doubts about fully funding it.

Among the most vocal was Regent Ted Hong, who suggested that the West Oahu campus, which currently serves 800 students out of portable buildings, should be closed.

Hong's motion was tabled, but several other regents, including Kitty Lagareta and board Chairwoman Patricia Lee, expressed concern about building a new campus at a time when deferred maintenance at the existing 10 campuses is overwhelming.

The regents are expected to vote on the West Oahu plans at their November meeting, said Sam Callejo, chief of staff for the university.

At that meeting, "because of concerns raised by some of the board members" UH administrators will present private financing options for the campus, which is expected to serve 1,500 students on 250 acres, Callejo said.

"When we bring it back for action, it'll be up to the board which way they choose to move," Callejo said.

"It's clear that the board is quite concerned about a large-scale CIP (capital improvement) budget. I don't believe the consensus is there (to fully fund the West Oahu campus)," said Paul Costello, UH vice president for external affairs and university relations.

In his final State of the State address last year, former Gov. Ben Cayetano urged the Legislature to allocate $142 million for the West Oahu campus, spending that Gov. Linda Lingle later cut from the budget.

Cayetano told the Star-Bulletin by e-mail yesterday that the $1 billion capital improvement budget he left for Lingle "would fund those needed facilities (on UH campuses) Hong sheds tears over. But Lingle reduced it dramatically, expressing concern over increased debt service. At a time when interest rates were at an all time low, her action amounted to being 'penny wise and pound foolish.'"

Cayetano said the model for UH-West Oahu is the University of California-Irvine, which transformed former ranch land into a "first rate university, provided greater educational access to the residents of California and other states, and served as a catalyst for the development of the beautiful city of Irvine."

Lingle couldn't be reached for comment yesterday.

"If you're talking about budget and long-range planning, the UH will be thinking about it (a West Oahu campus) because we have a growing population out there," Lee said. "The question is timing and finances."

In September 2002, the regents chose a 500-acre parcel of state land on the makai side of the H-1 freeway in Kapolei for the West Oahu campus.

In 2001, the Legislature allotted the UH $8 million for planning the campus.

Kawamoto said building UH-West Oahu will not only serve students, but help with traffic congestion.

"Twenty-six to 27 percent of students going to Manoa now live in Central and West Oahu," Kawamoto said. Compared to a fixed-rail transportation system at $3.3 billion, he said, a $350 million campus is "a very cheap way of getting reversal of traffic."

"It was promised 34 years ago, in 1970, to build a (West Oahu) campus," Kawamoto said. "There's people that have waited longer than I have. ... We have a plan, let's go for it."


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