By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Administrators are hoping that by scaling back plans for the proposed Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy building, they may render the project more palatable to state legislators.
Last year, the University of Hawaii at Hilo community was thrown for a loop when lawmakers failed to fund the $38 million building — despite the project being identified by the UH Board of Regents as the system’s No. 1 capital improvement priority. Legislators had also been warned that a lack of a permanent home would negatively impact the pharmacy school’s accreditation.
On Thursday afternoon, the UH Board of Regents was expected to again vote to make the UHH project the system’s No. 1 priority for the year. But, as administrators learned during the last session, such prioritizations are “just recommendations” to lawmakers, said Chancellor Donald Straney.
“They (legislators) are the ones who make those decisions,” he said Tuesday. “All we can do is provide them with our recommendations.”
This time around, UHH is working to slim down its capital request by $5 million in response to concerns that the plans were too pricey, Straney said.
“We’ve listened to what we heard last year,” he said. “It’s now a two-story, fairly simple building. As modest as we can get it.”
UHH University Relations Director Jerry Chang said that the majority of concerns about the building centered on its cost, but some legislators also appeared to be upset that the College of Pharmacy is not located on Oahu.
“That’s something we can’t fix at this point,” Chang said. “Our answer to them was that they had the opportunity to build it on Oahu and they didn’t take it, and our chancellor at the time, Rose Tseng, said ‘We’ll take it.’ Plus, (the late Sen.) Daniel K. Inouye though it would be best that rural health be taught on the outer islands, as well.”
So, administrators are focusing on making all the changes they can to respond to legislators’ concerns, Chang said.
“I want to emphasize that we heard what legislators said, and we’re doing exactly what they wanted us to do. We downsized, reduced the price, took out the grandness. … They didn’t specify, particularly, what it was, but they looked at the grand architecture and were concerned. They said ‘Do we really need that?’ … Of course, we had to listen to them, so we are now in the process of downsizing it. We’re making it complete, with classrooms and instructional labs, but the research labs will remain in the modules, where they are now.”
The building was designed by Hilo architect Rob Iopa, who also created the award-winning design of the $29 million College of Hawaiian Language building. It featured many symbolic flourishes with nods to UHH’s Hawaiian heritage, including a sweeping, mountain-like roofline.
“The entire roof has now been changed,” Chang said. “It’s much more utilitarian, more simple.”
While the paring down process is ongoing, Chang said that the plans as they stand now have dropped one whole floor from the building, and a large, retractable wall, like a garage door, that would have been used to expand interior space for parties and conferences. The building will also lose two of its original six instructional laboratories, and space that could have been used for future expansions.
“It’s not a total remake of the original plans. We’re just trying to fit everything in a smaller space,” he said.
College of Pharmacy Dean John Pezzuto said Thursday afternoon that he felt the changes to the building would address the concerns raised by legislators while minimizing the losses felt by college faculty and students.
“Although it’s not 100 percent ideal, at least we’ll all be in the same general facility,” he said. “The loss isn’t that great, frankly.”
Despite feeling like administrators have done everything they can to address complaints about the project, Pezzuto said he wouldn’t be confident about the future of the building until legislators have officially approved it.
“I think everybody was really shocked last near, and no one has been able to explain to me clearly why we ended up with absolutely zero support from the legislature last year,” he said. “Based on that, I don’t think anyone’s 100 percent confident about anything.”
Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaii tribune-herald.com.