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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 6, 2006

UH-West O'ahu left without funds again

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Maeda Timson remembers testifying before the state Legislature in support of a University of Hawai'i campus in West O'ahu when her daughter was 7 years old. Her daughter is now 27, and still there's no campus.

"I'm not trying to get (UH-West O'ahu) for my daughter anymore. I'm fighting for it for my grandchildren," said Timson, chairwoman of the Makakilo/Kapolei Neighborhood Board.

Plans for a UH-West O'ahu campus, which have been decades in the making, were stalled again this past legislative session when $33.5 million in bond money proposed by Gov. Linda Lingle was not included by lawmakers in the state budget.

"We've been talking about this for over 20 years. Finally we have a partner that wants to work with us, we have all the stars aligned, Board of Regents is fully supportive and on board, and then for some reason it didn't get funded," said Kitty Lagareta, chairwoman of the UH Board of Regents.

"It was a huge blow," said Gene Awakuni, chancellor of UH-West O'ahu. "We were really counting on that money to get us started."

Despite the setback, university officials, legislators and residents say they are still committed to construction of the four-year campus. However, they say the next legislative session is critical to keeping the project on track to be finished by 2009.

The project originally was slated to be completed in late 2008, Awakuni said. But legislative session after legislative session of setbacks have made 2009 the more "realistic" deadline, he said.

Fortunately, Awakuni said, UH-West O'ahu still has about $4 million of $8.5 million in planning money appropriated in 2003. That is enough to continue with an environmental impact study, pursue Land Use Commission approval and conduct some long-range planning.

"We can't get much further than that unless we get some help from the Legislature," he said.

UH-West O'ahu presently holds classes on the Leeward Community College campus. But advocates say a stand-alone, four-year West O'ahu campus is needed to accommodate booming growth in the area.

Phase I of UH-West O'ahu will include the construction of four buildings on the 500-acre Kapolei site and is expected to accommodate 1,520 students. Total cost of the infrastructure and buildings is expected to be about $150 million. No date has been set for completing the other phases.

In addition to state money, a private contractor is expected to help build the West O'ahu campus in exchange for development rights on up to 200 acres of the 500-acre site owned by the state, Awakuni said. Most of the noncampus land will be used for homes, he said, but that deal has yet to be finalized.

Awakuni said the developer, Hunt Building Co. Ltd., is limited in the amount of cash it can contribute to the project, so money from the Legislature is "absolutely critical."

Lawmakers say they are committed to UH-West O'ahu but cannot be solely responsible for its future.

Rep. Mark Moses, R-40th (Makakilo, Kapolei, Royal Kunia), said "internal politics" is the reason UH-West O'ahu did not receive its funding. He said other UH campuses were each attempting to get their piece of the pie and in the end left West O'ahu with nothing.

But he said he is certain UH-West O'ahu will get the money it needs eventually.

Sen. Clayton Hee said the Senate's Higher Education Committee had set aside money for UH-West O'ahu, but since the state House did not do the same, West O'ahu came up empty.

But Hee, D-23rd (Kane'ohe, Kahuku), said that while the Legislature is committed to providing money to develop a West O'ahu campus, the UH system also needs to provide its own money for the project.

"It seems to me that West O'ahu for the most part has always been thought of as a stepchild," he said.

Hee said the university has to be willing to set aside money from the anticipated $26 million in additional revenue from a tuition increase that begins in the fall.

"It's a little weak to suggest that all the burden should be on the Legislature's shoulders," he said. "The university does not need to wait for the 2007 Legislature if West O'ahu is truly a priority."

University officials say they are absolutely committed to making sure UH-West O'ahu becomes a reality but they need help from the Legislature.

Lagareta said while she is disappointed that West O'ahu did not receive the anticipated funding, the university will move forward on the plans.

"We've been assured that the parts that (the university) needs to do between now and next legislative session, they can do," Lagareta said.

However, she said, if the Legislature again does not fund West O'ahu next session, it could suffer further delays.

Timson said UH-West O'ahu is critical to the future of education on the Leeward Coast and the rest of the state. She expects to lobby on behalf of the campus again next session but right now she said she is left feeling like "we're not being cared about."

"It really affects the youth more than anyone," she said. "Why shouldn't we have a university out here a building to give kids some hope, something to aspire to?"

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.

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