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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 10, 2007

University of Hawaii hall to be vacated

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Steven Robinow

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Weeks after a fire and flood caused damage to Edmondson Hall on the University of Hawai'i-Manoa campus, university officials are making arrangements for about 18 faculty members and hundreds of students to vacate the four-story building for health and safety reasons.

By the beginning of the Fall 2008 semester, Edmondson Hall known to have major electrical problems is expected to be vacant. Consultants are then expected to help the university determine if it's worthwhile to renovate the 45-year-old building or if it should be demolished, said Kathy Cutshaw, vice chancellor for administration.

"It wasn't just the fire. We don't have enough power to that building to adequately power the labs," Cutshaw said. "This is not a building that we want to conduct research in."

On Oct. 20, a fire broke out in a third-floor faculty office and caused a water pipe to fail. While the water put out the fire, it also flooded the building, trickling down to the second and first floors, ruining ceiling tiles, computers, furniture, research material, books and records. The damage was not found until the next morning.

Firefighters later identified a faulty electrical outlet as the cause of the fire.

While the fire and flood in Edmondson Hall prompted the decision to move faculty and researchers, concern over the aging building's electrical system has been around for at least 12 years, said Steven Robinow, assistant chairman of the zoology department, which occupies the building along with biology.

"The most obvious problem is the lack of electrical capacity," Robinow said.

"We've been extremely power-limited for the past five years to the point where we are not allowed to buy a single item that contains a compressor because we already exceed the power limits of the building. In a modern research facility, whether it's teaching labs or research labs, this is not the right environment to work in."

The Oct. 20 fire broke out in associate professor Leonard Freed's office on the third floor. He said faculty members had complained for some time about Edmondson's volatile electrical system.

"There has been problem after problem," he said. "Even if someone wanted to get a new refrigerator for their lab, they can't because the building just can't handle any more."

University officials have acknowledged the building's electrical problems are a long-standing issue. About $3 million for electrical renovations to the building was requested by the university about five years ago but was never funded by the Legislature.

In a bulletin to the Manoa campus, Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw said Edmondson is in "serious need of overhaul and has thus far competed unsuccessfully for scarce repair and maintenance funds with a number of other projects higher on the priority list that grows longer every year."

UH-Manoa has a repair and maintenance backlog in excess of $120 million.

Many of the faculty members in Edmondson will be moved to the fourth floor of neighboring Snyder Hall, Robinow said. But that floor only offers about 10,000 square feet. The space occupied by labs and offices in Edmondson is more than 33,000 square feet, he said.

The department has been working with UH to find more space. One of the main problems is finding a place to move Edmondson's two large teaching labs that accommodate more than 600 students a semester, Robinow said.

"The university doesn't have extra teaching labs, and that's a huge problem," he said.

The department will likely be spread across the campus, he said.

The university is expected to spend $150,000 for a feasibility study of the hall. Consultants will help the university figure out if the building should be renovated or torn down, Cutshaw said.

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.