Dorm to open amid funding probe


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

University of Hawaii at Hilo administrators maintain that their campus will be ready to receive a new crop of students in a new dorm building this fall, despite an ongoing investigation into UH’s procurement process for capitol improvement projects.

A subcontractor alerted university officials and state legislators earlier this year to a number of alleged infractions involving university system construction projects overseen by Office of Capital Improvement Director Brian Minaai, including the Hilo campus’ $28 million University Village project, which is under construction.

UH-Hilo University Relations Director Jerry Chang said this week that he could not discuss the ongoing investigation, which is being undertaken by the state Attorney General’s Office. But, he said, the dormitory housing project, which will provide for approximately 300 students, is on target to be complete by Aug. 12.

“The opening for them to move in would be Aug. 20,” Chang said.

Room assignments will have already been done before that date, he said, although he could not say whether they had already been mailed to students who will occupy the building. He added that early class enrollment is currently under way.

Representatives with engineering firm Mitsunaga & Associates Inc. have made a number of public complaints since February, when Dennis Mitsunaga, the company’s president, provided testimony to legislators in support of a bill transferring the university system’s procurement responsibilities to the state Department of Accounting and General Services (DAGS). The bill has since been approved by the Legislature, with Gov. Neil Abercrombie signing it into law on June 3. The department of accounting will take on the UH procurement responsibilities beginning July 1.

In his testimony, Mitsunaga said that Minaai had potentially wasted millions in taxpayer dollars through mismanagement, including by offering jobs to friends and political allies.

Minaai was placed on paid administrative leave in March, and an investigation into the allegations was launched. A representative from the state Attorney General’s Office said last week that the investigation is continuing, but could not say when it might conclude. University officials have declined to comment on the case until the investigation is complete.

Among the allegations made by Mitsunaga officials were many examples involving Hilo’s University Village project. They claim that a number of shortcuts were made in the construction of the building, as well as careless workmanship that could result in maintenance problems, and/or safety issues.

Phase I of UH-Hilo’s University Village broke ground on June 22, 2012. Located across Kawili Street from the campus’ main entrance, the facility includes housing units in apartments and suite-style residence halls for approximately 300 students.

It is the first housing unit to be built at UHH since 1989.

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

 

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