Hilo’s College of Pharmacy must continue to wait for a permanent home, after legislators this week failed to include the $38 million needed for the school’s building in the final draft of their $23.8 billion budget for the state.
Budget negotiations for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 came to a close on Tuesday evening, well ahead of the Friday deadline.
Administrators, students and a community-based network of supporters of the University of Hawaii at Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy lobbied heavily this year for the funding to begin construction of a permanent facility to house the relatively new program. The college has operated out of multiple temporary locations and trailer classrooms since its launch in 2007.
Big Island legislators said Friday that much of the debate came down to the need for upkeep outweighing that of new construction, with many legislators hesitant to fund a new campus building for UH-Hilo when the university system is already wrestling with a $461 million maintenance backlog for its current facilities.
“I know that $50 million was set aside in the budget for renovations and maintenance, because there was some concern by legislators that there wasn’t enough money for maintenance,” said state Sen. Gil Kahele, D-Hilo. “It made it hard to compete for the small amount of money we do have. A lot of other bills were competing for that small amount.”
A review of the final budget agreement reveals that many other UH capital improvement projects will receive funding, despite having been placed lower on the UH Board of Regents’ priority list, which identified the pharmacy building as the most important specific project.
Among those projects: $38 million for the Advanced Technology Training Center at Honolulu Community College, $19 million for the renovation of Snyder Hall at UH-Manoa, $2 million for the Native Hawaiian Center for Excellence at Leeward Community College, $5.5 million for the North Hawaii Education and Research Center at UH-Hilo, $11.9 million for the Allied Health and STEM Building at UH-West Oahu, and $4.1 million for student housing at UH-Manoa.
Meanwhile, nearly $35 million was appropriated for seven UH system capital improvement projects marked as legislative initiatives — projects inserted into the budget negotiations by legislators despite not being highlighted by the UH system as priorities.
Kahele said he and his fellow Hawaii Island delegates were disheartened by the loss of the pharmacy building from the budget bill, but they aren’t planning on throwing in the towel.
“For all the positives that the College of Pharmacy has in the plus column, I can’t see why a commitment wasn’t reached this year,” he said. “But, I’m told the economy will be somewhat better next year, and I’m hoping that we can get a commitment on this shovel-ready project. We’ve already spent the money on the plans, it’s ready to go. … We’re going to explore different avenues. Sometimes, things like this are a blessing in disguise. You never know. It’s not like this is the end of the story. We’ll continue to move forward.”
University Relations Director Jerry Chang echoed those sentiments.
“Obviously, we are very disappointed,” he said. “We tried our best, and our colleagues in the Legislature did their best, especially (state Sen.) Gil Kahele and (state Sen.) Malama Solomon. Unfortunately, on the House side, it just wasn’t acceptable to put it (the building) back in the budget. … But, we’re going to continue to work toward getting a new building and keep the same high standards of the program.”
College of Pharmacy Dean John Pezzuto didn’t respond to a call seeking comment, but plans to address students and faculty next month.
“At this point, John has no comments until the session is over and we have a chance to plan accordingly,” wrote college spokeswoman Maggie Morris in a Friday email. “He’s in the process of planning a meeting for the entire college on May 10.”
Among the concerns he will likely address is that of the school of pharmacy’s accreditation.
Last week, administrators were notified that the school had failed to comply with only one standard during a recent visit by an accreditation team from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education: That standard requiring a school to provide sufficient permanent facilities.
“The college’s current facilities cannot be considered in any way acceptable under the requirements of Standard 27,” wrote evaluation consultant Max D. Ray in a preliminary summary of findings following the visit. “It is the evaluation team’s opinion that, unless immediate attention is given to the need for improvement in the College of Pharmacy’s physical facilities, the university will need to take a hard look at whether it can maintain a viable pharmacy program.”