Governor supports new building at UH-Hilo


HILO — Gov. Neil Abercrombie is recommending legislators appropriate $33 million for a new College of Pharmacy building in Hilo.

In the midst of continuing budget worries, his administration’s legislative package — to be introduced when the session begins Jan. 16 — singles out the University of Hawaii at Hilo project as the only specific capital improvement project in the university system to earn the governor’s stamp of approval for the coming year.

Such support shows that the Hilo campus and its College of Pharmacy have become hugely important to the state’s university system and its students, said University Relations Director Gerald De Mello.

“That was Christmas and the New Year,” he said of learning that the governor’s legislative package would include support for the project. “To place that in his budget … makes you recognize that the pharmacy program is not just on Hawaii Island. It serves the entire state, like the medical school and the law school.”

Of course, said state Sen. Gil Kahele, D-Ka‘u, Puna, Hilo, the endorsement from the governor is just one of many steps along the way to making sure the funds are appropriated.

“We have one less hurdle we have to go through,” he said. “It sets a good tone as we go forward in the Legislature. Now, my colleagues and I need to do our job out there.”

Kahele was appointed by Abercrombie in January 2011 to fill the state Senate District 2 seat left empty by Russell Kokubun when he took on chairmanship of the state Board of Agriculture. This summer, Kahele won election to represent the newly created Senate District 1.

Kahele said Thursday he was thankful for the governor’s support of Hawaii Island and the UH-Hilo campus.

“This was a big step, for the governor to show he’s behind the project,” he said.

Covering fiscal years 2014 and 2015, the governor’s legislative package for general fund requests totals $1 billion. In all, the UH system submitted more than $442 million in new requests for fiscal year 2014 and $366 million for fiscal year 2015.

Requests for projects at UH-Hilo totaled more than $67 million for fiscal year 2014 alone. Among them were a $3.8 million campus security upgrade, $1.2 million for replacement of a lead roof at Hale Kehau, $1.3 million for a student housing emergency shelter, $1.3 million for an emergency generator, and $5 million for a pedestrian walkway over Kawili Street.

In addition to the College of Pharmacy funding, the only other new UH system appropriation recommended by the governor was a lump sum of $28 million to be distributed for various projects as needed.

The 2013 Legislative session is set to begin Jan. 16. Bills must be introduced within the first week.