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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 13, 2001

After six months, Kapolei Hale largely vacant

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser City Hall Writer

KAPOLEI— The city's new civic center for the growing Leeward area boasts an award-winning design, distinctive Spanish-style architecture and 100,000 square feet of office space, but only a fraction of it has been in use since the $23-million building opened in February.

An elevator arriving at the second floor of Kapolei Hale opens to a warning that the area is closed. In April, the city had expected that workers would be occupying the second floor by this month.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

A satellite city hall and a "one-stop permit center" for people seeking city permits on the first floor are the only working offices. The U-shaped building with its clay tile roof and limestone panels is designed to be reminiscent of Honolulu Hale.

When Kapolei Hale was first completed, construction flaws in the courtyard caused the concrete to crack. City Managing Director Ben Lee said the contractor removed the hard surface and replaced it with landscaping. The green grass offers some relief in the hot, dry Kapolei area, but the two trees appear to have died. Lee said they will be replaced.

On Feb. 8, the city celebrated the opening of the three-story building, about 25 miles west of downtown. The Council has set aside another $1.7 million to help finish the office space.

But the move has also been slowed by negotiations with the union representing most of the city workers who will occupy the building. Some city employees don't want to have their jobs moved. For example, if a worker lives in East Honolulu, having to drive to Kapolei instead of downtown is a big concern, union officials say. Also, some workers think it will make their work more difficult if they are out in Kapolei and cannot interact as easily with other city agencies and offices.

Guy Tajiri, field services officer with Hawai'i Government Employees Association, said about 214 positions would transfer, but some of those jobs are now vacant.

Tajiri said some people will add an hour's commuting time to their day and must re-arrange their family lives around the schedule. "There's still unhappiness that some people will be relocated."

Lee said the city would rather confer with employees and the HGEA than rush to disrupt workers.

"In May, we thought we could probably move in in September," Lee said.

But Lee's latest estimate is that workers won't move in before November. And there's some chance that the rest of the workers could be delayed until January.

An April 30 letter from the city to the union indicated that employees would move to the second floor by mid-August and the third floor by mid-October.

Lee said that timetable has been slowed by a concerted effort to listen to employees' concerns and respond to their suggestions. "We want to address all the hardships."

Kapolei Hale's courtyard is often empty, like most of its offices. The city and union are negotiating over moving workers from downtown.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Lee said the city is modifying the floor plan to add bathrooms closer to employee offices, adding showers and lockers, and listening to employees concerns.

"I would prefer that we move everybody in by November," he said, but he thinks some third-floor employees may need to move in January. Lee said HGEA asked him to not make any moves during December because of the holidays.

Councilman Steve Holmes said he thinks the Kapolei move is a smart one and will help the city support the urban policy of encouraging growth on the 'Ewa Plain. While it might be difficult for some employees to shift, Holmes said, "for line people, who basically live in a cubicle all day long in the municipal building, it does make some sense."

The departments that are most affected by the Kapolei move are: Community Services, rehabilitation loan and service branch and rental assistance branch; Environmental Services, all employees now in the Honolulu Municipal Building, near City Hall; Parks and Recreation, all workers now at HMB; Planning and Permitting, building inspectors assigned to the Leeward area; Facility Maintenance, employees now at HMB; Budget and Fiscal Services staff that does work related to assessments in the Leeward and Central areas.

After those departments move out of the municipal building, the city plans to move Transportation Services out of 711 Kapi'olani Blvd. and Community Services staff out of 715 S. King St.

Lee estimates the city spends about $600,000 each year on O'ahu renting private office space. He said the city didn't simply move the departments now in rented offices out to Kapolei because some departments function more efficiently in town. For example, Lee said it makes sense to keep city Transportation Services in town, closer to other agencies that are working to build a new public transit system.

Mayor Jeremy Harris said he isn't alarmed that it's taking time to move into the new civic center. He said he has told city officials to work with employees to "make sure the transition is a smooth one."

Lee said the city is most concerned with hardships to employees such as for those who have health concerns, need to care for young children, elderly relatives and shuttle students to schools. "It can't be, 'I don't want to do because it's inconvenient.' "

Tajiri said he thinks the city is making a good-faith effort to work out employee concerns, unlike the state's initial move of employees to Kapolei three years ago. The HGEA — the largest public workers' union in Hawai'i with about 23,000 members — blocked that move in 1998 until the employer consulted with the union.

Tajiri said some of the delays have come from the city's shifting the floor plan to respond to employee concerns.

As for the concerns some workers have that they need to remain in town because of their work with other departments, the city has installed teleconferencing equipment at Kapolei so that some meetings can take place without more travel time.

Councilman John DeSoto, who represents the Kapolei-Wai'anae region, is happy to see the new services available closer to home but sorry to see that it's taken so long to finish the move.

"It's sad that the building is just wasting over there," DeSoto said. "It's a beautiful, beautiful building."

DeSoto said working with employees to ease the transition makes sense, but the city needs to get people into the building to save money on renting other office space.

"It's just a shame," DeSoto said. "Hopefully, they can resolve that before the end of the year."

Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board member Jane Ross said the satellite city hall has already proved itself with area residents. "I know people who have found it very convenient."

But she's a little puzzled that it's taken so long to move the rest of the workers.

"I don't know why it has to take that long. If that's the job and that's where the work is, you go where the work is," she said.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.