Stadium rust to get $12.4M treatment
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By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Lynda Arakawa
The state this year will spend about $12.4 million to treat rust and corrosion at Aloha Stadium in what state officials hope will be the first of many steps toward restoring the 32-year-old facility.
After talks early in the state Legislative session about tearing down Aloha Stadium and replacing it with a new facility in West O'ahu, lawmakers appropriated the construction money for "health and safety" measures at the stadium.
While less than what Gov. Linda Lingle's administration sought, it's the first "major" appropriation for stadium repairs in more than a decade, said state comptroller Russ Saito. He said the stadium has had some minor work during that time but that the last major treatment for rust and corrosion was in the 1990s, when the facility underwent repairs totaling tens of millions of dollars.
Aloha Stadium — home to the University of Hawai'i football team and site of the NFL Pro Bowl — needs repairs in areas such as rust damage, structural and seating problems, a shortage of toilets and noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Saito emphasized that the stadium is safe and that the planned rust treatment is preventive maintenance.
"It's structurally sound," he said. "But if you don't treat it, it deteriorates, and after a while it does become an issue. It's not there yet. We're trying to get to it before it becomes an issue."
The Lingle administration will seek additional money next year to continue repairing and refurbishing the stadium, but it's unclear how the Legislature will respond, particularly if support builds for a new stadium.
"If we're going to be looking at and ... constructing a stadium at a different site, then how much money do you put into the existing Aloha Stadium?" said House Finance Committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro.
Lawmakers last year rejected the Lingle administration's request for $25 million to begin stadium repairs. This session the Legislature granted the administration's request of $12.4 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but didn't approve an additional $25.9 million state officials sought for the following year, Saito said.
The Lingle administration had planned to use the $12.4 million and the $25.9 million to reroof the stadium and repair part of the stands, but will now use the smaller appropriated amount mostly to address rust and corrosion.
This year lawmakers also considered demolishing the Halawa stadium and conveying the site to private interests in exchange for land or money that could be used by the state for a new complex in West O'ahu.
A bill to do that stalled early in the session, but state Rep. K. Mark Takai, who introduced the measure, said he will push for it again next year. Several high-ranking politicians have either supported or seen potential in replacing the stadium, and similar ideas have been floated before by other Hawai'i leaders.
Takai, D-34th (Pearl City, Newtown, Waiau), said upgrades would still be needed at Aloha Stadium even if the bill passed because building a new facility would take several years.
"Our intention is not to walk away from the facility today and leave it the way it is without any upgrades, because it's about a 10-year process," he said.
A 2005 study by Honolulu firm Wiss Janney Elstner Associates Inc. determined that the stadium requires $99 million to be completely restored and an additional $115 million for ongoing maintenance and refurbishment over the next 20 years to extend its useful life.
The $99 million figure — which is expected to grow because of inflation and higher construction costs — includes about $29 million for corrosion protection and structural repairs and $26 million for seating repairs. The stadium is also short about 300 women's toilets by current building guidelines, Saito said.
The cost for a new stadium today is estimated to be about $300 million, and substantially more if the stadium is built on land without infrastructure.
Oshiro said he wants to give the state enough money to keep the stadium operational and safe and admitted that he's "not terribly excited by the prospect of building a new stadium at taxpayers' expense."
But he's also not ready to commit a large amount of money for the existing facility while the proposal for a new one may still be explored.
The 50,000-seat stadium was built in 1975. It hosts events including the NFL's Pro Bowl, high school football games, concerts and graduations.
Aloha Stadium Authority chairman Kevin Chong Kee said the stadium, while safe, has many problems that need to be addressed.
"It would have been great if there was a lot more money, but I guess it's a start right now," he said. "There's a long wish list that we have, but we have to tackle what's needed first."
Saito said work to treat the rust on the metal roofdeck and stands will begin this year, but because repairs can't be done during football season, the bulk likely will be completed next year.
The 2005 study projected that corrosion treatment costs would be about $16.8 million, "so we're going to be looking at what is the most we can do with the money that we have," Saito said.
Reach Lynda Arakawa at firstname.lastname@example.org.