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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 3, 2008

COMMENTARY
It's time for UH-Manoa to look like the gem it is

By Virginia S. Hinshaw

Recent events at the University of Hawai'i's Manoa campus have been a rollercoaster ride for everyone, but I believe these events have emphasized that the "Manoa Moment" is here and now.

This is our time to shine. The Sugar Bowl experience generated great pride in being affiliated with UHM. Through athletics, folks learned a lot about UH-Manoa and Hawai'i and we must use that momentum to generate both public and private support.

I also want to point out that our faculty and staff compete at the "bowl" level continually, by recruiting and educating the future, our students; competing for research grants; and providing services to our community. Providing a safe, intellectually stimulating and supportive learning environment is critical to our serving the state and that is the reason for having such items as library collections, along with health, safety and emergency efforts, as high budget priorities.

The No. 1 priority on my list is repairs and maintenance. When I arrived in July, I quickly recognized that facilities deterioration on the Manoa campus represented our most major challenge. That led to my statement that "UH-Manoa is a jewel in many ways, particularly intellectually, but is badly tarnished physically." Such deterioration didn't happen overnight; it is the result of decades of neglected repairs and maintenance.

Here are a few facts:

  • Our campus' deferred maintenance backlog has been chronically underestimated. Our new estimate using business standard analyses indicate it is upwards of $400 million.

  • Our facilities staff is a dedicated group, but the lack of funding means they're merely able to react to breakdowns on campus they receive about 950 work orders a month and have a backlog of 4,607 work orders.

  • Less than 5 percent of our efforts are spent on preventive maintenance, making the future full of more of the same experiences. Twenty-five buildings currently have major system breakdowns, 37 have significant leaks, and that's not surprising since 36 of our buildings are more than 60 years old.

  • Our costs are increasing sewage fees are up 82 percent in 6 months; construction costs at a 10 percent inflation rate, which makes delays vastly expensive.

    POSITIVE CHANGES

    So how do we address these challenges? Certainly resources play a key role but so does having nimbleness and flexibility. My goal is for us to move more rapidly and efficiently to realize the full value of investments made by our state and community. To accomplish that, we need to change the way we do business such as pursuing public/private partnerships, re-storation of our state procurement exemption, using debt, assertive licensing and more.

    We're certainly seeing positive changes thanks to the state's investments our new Frear Hall dormitory is on time, on budget and will open this fall with 800 beds that are sorely needed. Our next target is renovation of the four residential towers. Campus Center is being renovated to meet student needs.

    Private investments are moving us ahead as well and are critical to our future. Clearly the $25 million Shidler gift to the Business School has been transformational, both intellectually and physically and our entering MBA students are the most highly qualified to date. There is a connection.

    My hope for the future is that we can realize the full potential of UH-Manoa to serve all of Hawai'i as a beautiful, intellectually stimulating center of activity. Our investment in the university generates great returns because our alumni, public service and research advances all contribute positively to the lives of our citizens in Hawai'i and beyond.

    Virginia S. Hinshaw is chancellor of the University of Hawai'i's Manoa campus. She wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.