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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, March 31, 2005

Flood aid gets UH closer to 'whole'

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

The University of Hawai'i got a $31 million boost from the federal government yesterday but still has a long way to go before it completely recovers from a devastating campus flood last year, officials said.

"Things look much, much brighter today than they did a day earlier," university spokeswoman Carolyn Tanaka said yesterday after learning the money is coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The money will help pay for an estimated $81 million in damage to university buildings sustained in the October flood on the Manoa campus.

However, even with the FEMA money and an expected $25 million insurance settlement, university officials said they need to come up with at least $25 million more in federal or state money to pay for all the repairs to more than 40 buildings damaged in the flood.

And that doesn't take into account the estimated millions more needed to recover lost research and intellectual property.

"We're not going to be whole for a long time yet," said Jean Ehrhorn, associate university librarian at Hamilton Library, the hardest hit of the campus buildings. "It's probably going to take another 18 to 24 months just to complete the physical reconstruction of our basement."

Initially, officials estimated flood damage at more than $25 million.

Subsequently, the number quadrupled, with the latest estimates this month ranging to $100 million or more when the building, contents and intellectual property losses are added together.

However, of the 40 buildings damaged in the flood, only the library and medical school remain affected, Ehrhorn said.

"And the medical school is expected to move to its new home in Kaka'ako in a few months," she said.

Despite the remaining challenges, the announcement about the federal money and the reopening of most of the library this week had administrators, faculty members and students in one of their most upbeat moods since the waters from Manoa Stream roared through the campus on the night of Oct. 30, wiping out facilities, collections and research.

"Everybody is a lot happier now that the library is open again," said Melissa Arakawa, a senior in American studies who also works in the library's circulation department. "It's really important that it happened before the end of the semester, because so many students need a place to study."

Until this week, access was barred to the upper library floors where books are kept. That meant each student or faculty member had to request a book, then wait while a student worker was dispatched to find it in the darkened stacks.

"Usually the turnaround was two hours, but when they were really busy, it could take three or four hours for you to get the book," Arakawa said. "Now, you can go up and find it yourself and see 25 or 30 others at the same time."

Meanwhile, the university has been receiving help from around the world in replacing its lost and damaged collection of historic maps and government documents.

"We're getting donations of materials from other places, and the U.S. Library of Congress, which has an ongoing program to digitize its maps, has put its Hawaiian collection on the top of the list of things to do," she said.

Although the library opening has lifted spirits of students and faculty members, there are sobering reminders that much work remains to be done, Ehrhorn said.

"We're still operating on generator power that must be costing a lot of money," she said.

And because the library's fire-sprinkler system was knocked out in the flood, security guards have been hired as fire watchers on each floor for every hour the library is open. The cost is about $9,000 a week.

A top priority for the library rebuilding will be construction of a new facility to house all the library's mechanical functions, such as electricity and air conditioning, Ehrhorn said. Then the library will work on rebuilding the devastated basement and getting the school of Library Sciences back into its home there, she said.

State Civil Defense will administer FEMA's public assistance program that provides grants on a 75 percent to 25 percent cost-sharing basis — $31 million from FEMA and $10 million from UH. The university's share will be financed by general obligation bonds and general funds.

Federal guidelines for public-assistance money require the state to increase its insurance coverage for affected buildings. The cost of additional insurance may increase from $350,000 to $650,000 annually.

Staff writer James Gonser contributed to this report. Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.