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Officials say $66M projects will boost UH-Hilo

<p>The new University of Hawaii at Hilo student complex will be a trio of three-story residential wings comprised of two-bedroom units housing 302 students and a one-story common area.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p>


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Work continues on three separate construction projects at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, representing a capital investment of about $66 million in the growing campus.

Despite a recent spate of heavy rain in Hilo, UH System Vice President for Capital Improvements Brian Minaai said Wednesday that all three construction projects are on target to meet their deadlines. He added that workers on at least one of the projects — Phase I of UHH’s University Village, which includes on-campus housing for 300 students — have no other option but to meet their due date.

“We anticipate an opening in August, and we better make it, because we’ll have 300 kids looking for beds,” he said with a laugh. “We’re looking at putting in the beds and furniture in mid- to late July. By Aug. 13 it has to be ready for them.”

The “residential-life housing project” — and definitely not a “dorm,” Minaai insisted — was fast-tracked after Gov. Neil Abercrombie released its funding in late December of 2011, he said.

“We didn’t go through the traditional Design-Bid-Build process for this one, like we did with the others,” he said. “While they were still designing it, we started the work so we could get into the ground faster. Parts were overlapping. Only 50 percent of it was designed when we started construction.”

The $28 million construction project broke ground in June, and workers are currently closing up the roof and anticipate beginning painting shortly, Minaai said.

The 105,500-square-foot complex sits on a five-acre site on a 33-acre plot of land across Kawili Street from the campus’ main entrance. It features a trio of three-story residential wings comprised of two-bedroom units housing 302 students and a one-story common area that interlocks with two exterior courtyards. Other amenities include a new parking lot and bike storage for residents.

Administrators have called the complex a vital part of the University’s plans to address a long-standing on-campus housing shortage.

“This project will ensure our continued growth and development,” UHH Chancellor Don Straney said at the June groundbreaking.

Two other buildings are on target to open this spring. They include the campus’ new Student Services Building, and a new permanent home for the Ka Haka ‘Ula Ke‘elikolani College of Hawaiian Language.

The $18 million and $20 million construction projects, respectively, are both nearing the end of major work, Minaai said.

“At the Students Services Building, they’re mostly working on the interiors now,” he said. “It’s closed up, and they’re just finishing a few things on the outside.”

The 35,000-square-foot, three-story building will provide a “one-stop shop to complete all the activities needed to become a full-fledged student at UH-Hilo and complete registration for classes under one roof,” according to a campus press release from the building’s January, 2011, groundbreaking.

It will house the college’s Admissions Office, Office of the Registrar, Financial Aid Services, and Cashier’s Office on the first floor, as well as the Advising Center, Career Development Services, Disability Services, Counseling Services, Women’s Center and Health Promotion Program on the second floor. The third floor will host the Offices of the vice chancellor for Student Affairs, the dean of students, and other student support staff.

The new Student Services Building replaces the old one, which will serve as the College of Business and Economics.

Meanwhile, Minaai said, the Hawaiian Language Building is nearly complete.

“I was in town two weeks ago. They’re still working on it. It’s not quite ready, but it looks just beautiful,” he said.

The two-story structure spans 37,000 square feet on a three-acre parcel on Nowelo Street, next to the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii in the University Park of Science and Technology.

The need for the building was identified more than a decade ago, administrators have said. The college’s rapid growth produced UH-Hilo’s first Master’s and Ph.D. recipients, and yet over time it came to be spread across five different locations on campus, with some faculty and staff sharing office space with up to 16 people.

The new building includes a Performing Arts Auditorium that can be sub-divided into three spaces, and also houses special use rooms including a library, curriculum and media resource room, tutorial, archive and telecom conference rooms, a computer lab, student and faculty lounges and 30 offices.

Email Colin M. Stewart at


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