The retirement of University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood shouldn’t affect the Palamanui campus project, West Hawaii legislators and a Hawaii Community College official said Tuesday.
“One of my top concerns is that (a new UH system president) have a full commitment to Phase 1 and beyond,” Sen. Josh Green, D-Kona, Ka‘u, said. “Without Phase 2 and 3, we won’t have enough (of a community college facility).”
Rep. Cindy Evans, D-North Kona, Kohala, said the state has committed the funding to build Phase 1.
“I do believe we need to check and push for the release of the money,” Evans said. “The Big Island delegation is going to have to put effort in working with the new president.”
Green said he intends to ask for $10 million for the project’s second phase in next year’s supplemental budget. Evans said the likelihood of getting money for Palamanui next year is slim, if the county also gets legislators to approve up to $81 million to complete the Kona Judiciary complex.
Several legislators agreed that just getting the first phase completed can increase the chances the university system will commit to additional space and courses in West Hawaii.
“Get the first phase done, open the doors and prove to the system there’s an unmet need,” Evans said. “Phase 2 should come fairly easily if we fill up Phase 1.”
Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-North Kona, said Phase 1 is “a foot in the door” to a bigger campus.
Green said he doesn’t foresee the university backing away from the project once a new president is on board.
“I don’t think there are any problems with continuity,” Green said, adding Greenwood was a strong supporter of the Palamanui project. “I never felt like she wavered in her support.”
John Morton, vice president for community colleges, agreed that Greenwood was a strong advocate for Palamanui. He said her retirement, announced late Monday evening, would not impact the project.
“The regents are going to want someone who is committed to all of the university campuses, including the one in West Hawaii,” Morton said.
UH officials said Monday Greenwood will retire in September for personal, health and family reasons. The Board of Regents will discuss plans to replace Greenwood in coming months, the university said in a statement.
Greenwood, who took office in 2009, plans to take unpaid leave and return to a tenured faculty position at the university after that.
“This university has accomplished an amazing amount in a rather short and extremely challenging time,” said Greenwood said in a statement.
She told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser her retirement isn’t related to the athletic department’s botched attempt to hold a fundraiser concert headlined by Stevie Wonder. State lawmakers criticized Greenwood’s response when it became clear the university was scammed out of a $200,000 deposit by someone falsely claiming to represent the singer.
The late Sen. Daniel Inouye defended Greenwood amid the critical onslaught by praising her in a letter he sent to the Board of Regents in November.
He said that under Greenwood, he had “a particularly successful” partnership with the university in attracting investments for the school in astronomy, oceans and other fields.
On Monday, Board of Regents Chairman Eric Martinson hailed Greenwood for her “outstanding” accomplishments as president.
The university’s reputation advanced nationally and internationally under her leadership, he said.
“She’s been instrumental in putting the university on the path to increased cooperation with the business community and has helped build recognition of the importance of the university for the economic engine it represents for Hawaii,” Martinson said in a statement.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie wished Greenwood good fortune in years to come and said he would contact the board and the wider community “as we chart our next steps.”
In a statement, he said he was impressed with Greenwood’s commitment and desire to give her very best effort on behalf of UH.
Greenwood took over from David McClain, an economics professor and administrator who had stepped in after the Board of Regents fired Evan Dobelle.
Dobelle was fired for cause in 2004 amid concerns about sloppy administration, mismanagement of university funds, and his hiring of friends and former colleagues for high-paying jobs at UH.
He later reached a $1.8 million settlement with UH and now is president of Westfield State College in Massachusetts.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.