UH-Hilo expansion projects nearly finished


HILO — Work continues on three separate construction projects at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, representing a capital investment of about $66 million.

Despite a recent spate of heavy rain in Hilo, UH System Vice President for Capital Improvements Brian Minaai said Wednesday that all three construction projects are on target to meet their deadlines. He added that workers on at least one of the projects — Phase I of UH-Hilo’s University Village, which includes on-campus housing for 300 students — have no other option but to meet their due date.

“We anticipate an opening in August, and we better make it, because we’ll have 300 kids looking for beds,” he said. “We’re looking at putting in the beds and furniture in mid- to late July. By Aug. 13 it has to be ready for them.”

The project was fast-tracked after Gov. Neil Abercrombie released its funding in December 2011, he said.

“We didn’t go through the traditional design-bid-build process for this one, like we did with the others,” he said. “While they were still designing it, we started the work so we could get into the ground faster. Parts were overlapping. Only 50 percent of it was designed when we started construction.”

The $28 million construction project broke ground in June, and workers are currently closing up the roof and anticipate beginning painting shortly, Minaai said.

The 105,500-square-foot complex sits on a 5-acre site on a 33-acre plot of land across Kawili Street from the campus’ main entrance. It features a trio of three-story residential wings comprised of two-bedroom units housing 302 students and a one-story common area that interlocks with two exterior courtyards. Other amenities include a new parking lot and bike storage for residents.

Administrators have called the complex a vital part of the university’s plans to address a long-standing on-campus housing shortage.

“This project will ensure our continued growth and development,” UH-Hilo Chancellor Don Straney said at the June groundbreaking.

Two other buildings are on target to open this spring. They include the campus’ new student services building, and a new permanent home for the Ka Haka Ula Keelikolani College of Hawaiian Language.

The $18 million and $20 million construction projects, respectively, are both nearing the end of major work, Minaai said.

The 35,000-square-foot, three-story student services building will house the college’s admissions, registrar, financial aid and cashier’s offices on the first floor. Advising, career development, counseling and other offices would be on the second floor. The third floor will host the offices of the vice chancellor for student affairs, the dean of students, and other student support staff.

The old student services building will serve as the college of business and economics.

Meanwhile, Minaai said, the Hawaiian language building is nearly complete.

The two-story structure spans 37,000 square feet on a three-acre parcel on Nowelo Street, next to the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii.

The new building includes a performing arts auditorium that can be divided into three spaces.