By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Dean John Pezzuto conveyed Friday a sense of determination paired with lingering shellshock as he updated students and faculty on the Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy’s failed campaign to fund a permanent building this Legislative Session.
“Obviously, we have experienced a little adversity, but that has strengthened our shared vision of building a world-class program,” he said Friday afternoon to a gathering of about 300 members of the College of Pharmacy community.
The crowd listened intently as he spoke and answered questions for about 45 minutes, despite the discomfort of being packed onto the wooden bleachers of the University of Hawaii at Hilo’s gymnasium, a situation Pezzuto called a “testament to the fact that we need a new building.”
One of the foremost questions on everyone’s minds since the completion of the session has been “Why wasn’t the building funded?” Pezzuto said.
“As I continue to get more mature, I’ve learned more about myself, that I have more patience than when I was younger,” he said. “… I’ve come to a conclusion that there are some things I’ll never be able to understand or know the answer to.
“Now, you’ve heard that our permanent building will not be funded. Why is this? … I don’t think I’ll ever know. But I’m mature, and I can accept that.”
Pezzuto spoke much of moving forward and leaving this setback behind; however, it was clear that he remains exasperated by legislators’ refusal to make room in the state’s new biennial budget for the building, calling their thinking “illogical.”
“One article said that the reason why was because Rep. (Isaac) Choy believed that all the money needs to go into health and safety. And who can argue with that?” Pezzuto asked. “But that’s not the complete truth. Other buildings with lower priorities than ours were funded, like $38 million for a building in Honolulu … so I find that disingenuous to say that it was withheld for health and safety.”
Despite the setback, and despite his puzzlement over the politics behind it, Pezzuto said he was confident that the building would be funded in the future.
“We just need the public’s help in explaining to legislators why this is vitally important,” he said.
One of the main reasons the building is such a huge concern is the fact that the College of Pharmacy has maintained its full accreditation as a result of making assurances to the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education that a permanent facility was forthcoming.
The accreditation council has some leeway to declare schools in “partial compliance” in instances where they are awaiting funding for facilities, he explained. The College of Pharmacy has benefited from such partial compliance since it was first accredited in June 2011.
But, Pezzuto said after the meeting, the College of Pharmacy has probably worn out any flexibility by the ACPE in working its way around the standard requiring a permanent building.
When the ACPE meets in June to discuss the College of Pharmacy, the program has a good chance of being found non-compliant, he said. After that would begin a two-year process in which the college could be stripped of its accreditation. But, he said, “We don’t even want to go there.”
Instead, college administrators are working to find alternative options for funding a building, including public/private partnerships and charitable giving.
“Just yesterday, I received a $20,000 check from Mina (Pharmacy) toward our building. And that’s on top of another $50,000 we received from Walgreens,” he announced.
But ultimately, he said, “the state is going to have to do this.”
Following the meeting, 27-year-old student Preston Pietrzak stood outside discussing the situation with family and friends.
In his mind, the failure to fund the building came down to “politicians acting like kids, playing politicians,” he said.
“If this were in Honolulu, this thing would have been done a long time ago,” he said. “This just shows how irresponsible politicians can be.”
Coming into the start of the Legislative Session this year, the College of Pharmacy building appeared to be the beneficiary of strong support, with the University of Hawaii Board of Regents labeling the project as their No. 1 priority, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie throwing his weight behind the effort.
Big Island delegates to the Legislature unanimously provided their support, as well as members of the Hawaii County Council and dozens and dozens of community members who provided testimony urging the approval of the funding.
The building made it into the Senate version of the budget at the halfway point in the session, but was taken out of the House version during deliberations. The Senate and the House failed to come to an agreement and include the item in the final version of the biennium budget for fiscal years 2014 and 2015.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.