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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 9, 2003

UH sprucing up rundown image

 •  Graphic: Creating a gathering place at UH-Manoa

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Across the University of Hawai'i-Manoa campus, lawns are pocked with bare dirt, sidewalks are broken and once-attractive plantings are barren or weed-choked. Palms have died, the shady central court of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning looks like a freeway underpass, garbage collects behind the Art Building, and Varney Circle fountain still doesn't work.

Student Darin Oda volunteered to plant lawae in a courtyard at the UH-Manoa campus. With a $180 million backlog of repairs and maintenance, the university administration is working to make the campus look better.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Simply put, the flagship UH campus is a haphazard hodgepodge where wooden benches rot, "bandit" paths crisscross everywhere, and parking takes precedence over pretty.

"I used to say this was the ugliest campus in the prettiest place in the world," muses postdoctoral researcher Lori Pierce, who got her doctorate's degree in American Studies three years ago. "It's hard to get used to."

For decades, the campus has grown chaotically, with buildings plunked down without thought to the spaces between them or the money needed to keep them up. Despite a 1994 long-range development plan that is being reviewed and updated, there was little consistent architecture or thought given to gathering spaces.

Deterioration accelerated in the past 10 years with the state's slumping economy resulting in a $180 million backlog of repairs and maintenance. With the state still strapped for money and Gov. Linda Lingle making new cuts, it appears that backlog will remain.

"We should be getting at least $32 million a year for repairs, based on the formula of 2 to 4 percent of replacement value for a $1.6 billion inventory of buildings," said Sam Callejo, director of capital improvements. The system has $35 million this year, Callejo said, but Lingle is suggesting it be cut to $25 million for each of the next two years.

Nonetheless, a drive under way by the campus administration to make UH one of the nation's top-tier institutions includes efforts to make the campus more beautiful. While it will be some time before Manoa looks like one of the best, several projects are nearing completion and new initiatives are being launched:

  • The most impressive beautification comes with the imminent unveiling of Hawai'i Hall and a two-year, $15 million renovation transforming the historic 1912 structure from rundown to stylish.
  • Next to Burns Hall at the East-West Center, a new reception area called Hale Halawai will be completed this month.
  • The Dole Gateway and Legacy Walk across from the William S. Richardson School of Law on Dole Street are almost complete.
  • An inexpensive grassroots effort will create a people-centered courtyard gathering place where 30 delivery trucks used to park daily.

"President Dobelle coming in — that's what's really taken the lid off the university," said assistant professor of architecture Stephen Meder, director of the school's Environmental Systems Laboratory. "He seems to have a heartfelt interest in this. For the first time in my experience, someone said, 'OK, let the people interested in it run with it.' "

They have. Last month, 120 volunteers mulched, dug, and planted to create a ti- and palm-shaded courtyard between Kuykendall, Sakamaki and the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics (HIG).

"This really helps," said student Mallory Socha after the courtyard began taking shape in late January. "It puts life into it. There should be more of this on campus. We need more greenery."

Bruce Miller of the UH Office of Sustainability points out debris in front of the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Some of the money for improvements is coming from the new UH Office of Sustainability under Bruce Miller, who will apply a third of his $150,000 budget to beautification and the rest to efforts to affect water and energy use on campus.

By teaming up with landscaping manager Roxanne Adams, who is determined to make the place feel like a botanical garden, they've brightened grimy spots by adding indigenous plants, grass and small rock gardens.

"The way the buildings were placed, these spaces have just been ignored," said Miller, picking his way through piles of old boxes and throwaways that have clogged one entrance to the HIG auditorium for years. "We can take these spaces and make them all tie together. It will change the whole feel of the campus."

The first steps called for banning delivery trucks, hauling away storage containers of junk that have sat there for years, jack-hammering curved walkway shapes from existing sidewalks, plus finding inspiration from the few campus spots considered attractive.

"There weren't many; the garden at Krauss Hall, the East-West Center Garden and Lady Bird Johnson's plumeria grove," said Miller.

With such jewels in mind, there's hope of turning the courtyard into an inviting area of food booths, tables, gurgling water, shady trellises and art exhibits with enough seating to accommodate 150 students.

Miller and Adams are looking to other improvements as well, including a cleanup along Manoa Stream and an irrigation system between UH and Mid-Pacific Institute to help vines grow.

Across campus, in the soaring but boring School of Architecture building, Professor Jack Sidener has been working on something more basic: sidewalks. Beginning last summer, he and a class of students stalked the campus making flow charts and examining concrete to suggest ways of increasing functionality, beauty and safety.

"This is like a small city," Sidener said. "There are 20,000 people here." That means traffic patterns need to be rearranged so trucks can make their deliveries without running people down. "We recommend getting cars off in quite a few areas and improving service access," Sidener said.

The Campus Walkway Study also calls for a wide curving pathway across campus on a makai/ mauka axis; a substantial redesign of Varney Circle to make it pedestrian-friendly; creation of landscaping, pedestrian and vehicular traffic plans as part of the Long-Range Development Plan update; and working "the cultural underlay" of UH into all of it.

"The campus is a combination of Roman planning and old Beaux Arts architectural ideas," Sidener said. "But what also has to be considered is the ahupua'a concept and some natural streams, now underground, and the whole issue of what is a Hawaiian sense of place."

Some contend that such efforts aren't necessary.

"I'm here to study," said Jimmy Ku, who is finishing undergrad prerequisites before medical school. "What makes a difference are the facilities, like the libraries, and how the professors plan their classes.

"In Japan (where he taught English for several years), there's no grass. They play on dirt, and the facilities are decaying. But they study well."

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.

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