College of Pharmacy seeks $38M


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

The University of Hawaii at Hilo hopes to secure funding this legislative session to begin construction on a $55 million building for its College of Pharmacy.

Following the spring 2011 completion of the building's $5.5 million design phase, the project is "shovel ready," said UHH Director of University Relations Gerald De Mello, and could begin construction as early as this spring. First, however, administrators must convince the state Legislature to appropriate the $38 million needed for the first phase, he said.

The new building is vital to the
continued success of the College of Pharmacy, he argued, while admitting that the appropriation could be a hard sell to the Legislature this year. Hilo's recent success in obtaining funding for projects like the currently-under-construction College of Hawaiian Language building could count against it when put in context with other UH campus needs around the state.

"That is something we're worried about," De Mello said. "The climate is very tough, especially with the university's West Oahu campus coming on line right now."

Currently, said College of Pharmacy Dean John Pezzuto, faculty, administrators, staff and students are spread out among a number of buildings that serve as a temporary home for the college. That makes it tough for the burgeoning program to attract top researchers, faculty members and students.

"One concern is that if we advertise a faculty position we may get 75-80 applications. Some of these people have worked with Nobel Prize winners. The expectation is that we would become a grounded, solid college. But if we don't have a building and we're operating out of temporary modules ... It's getting more critical now," he said.

Pezzuto added that in addition to the facility's educational impact on the community, it would have an economic impact. He outlined a number of commercial opportunities that could materialize as a result of having a permanent home for the college, including discussing one long-term possibility of the college forming a partnership to manufacture hard-to-find pharmaceuticals locally.

"Our next step is building our commercialized capacity," he said. "That's three to five years out, max, and an undertaking like that needs a location like Hilo."

Since its earliest planning stages, administrators have winnowed the building project down to what they consider to be its most essential needs — and its most reasonable price, UHH Chancellor Don Straney said. Initially, the total pricetag for the building was $120 million, and as recently as this summer, it was set at $66 million.

"The current plan is for the entire project to cost $55 million, but we would break that out into two phases," Straney said. "The first phase would be building out the first floor at a cost of $38 million. The second phase we would finish the upper two floors."

Designed by Hilo-born architect Rob Iopa and his firm, WCIT Architecture, the Hawaiian-themed structure takes many of its cues from the Big Island's natural surroundings. WCIT also designed the campus' College of Hawaiian Language building.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.