Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022|
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Supporters of the University of Hawaii at Hilo Daniel K. Inouye College of Pharmacy were pleased this month, if not surprised, to once again receive support from Gov. Neil Abercrombie in their quest to obtain funding for a permanent building.
On Dec. 16, Abercrombie ranked the College of Pharmacy as his No. 1 priority for UH System capital improvement projects on his Executive Supplemental Budget for the 2013-15 Fiscal Biennium. The move mirrored the same recommendation he made to legislators last year. The UH Board of Regents also ranked the project as its No. 1 priority. Those shows of support failed, however, to drum up enough support for the project, and legislators ultimately shot the plan down.
Some opponents of the project balked at the total cost and scope of the project, said College of Pharmacy Dean John Pezzuto.
“There were a few comments that came back after the last round (in the Legislature) that were understandable,” he said. “One was that there were some concerns about the design of the building, so we’ve taken care of that. We’ve redesigned it, scaled back.”
The building had originally been designed as a two-phase project, with the first requiring $38 million, and the second being funded with $20 million raised through private partnerships, Pezzuto said. The redesign now calls for a single, $33 million phase, which should make the building more palatable to legislators, he said.
In an interview Friday, state Sen. Russell Ruderman said that he, like a lot of people in Hilo, had been surprised when the project wasn’t approved last year.
“I’m naive and optimistic by nature, and I always figured it was going to happen,” he said. “It was just below the cut last year, for a variety of reasons.”
Largely, he said, legislators who didn’t support the project appeared to be making a statement with the decision that they were trying to be more fiscally conservative, Ruderman said.
“That’s the general thing the building was a victim of,” he said.
He added that a few legislators have also expressed the desire that the College of Pharmacy be moved to Oahu.
“I find that, by nature, absurd,” he said. “I’ve heard that from two or three people, and one person in position of power on the House side. … What’s a student’s cost of living on Oahu vs. Hilo? Housing costs alone are going to be three times as much. And it’s already overcrowded, with traffic and parking problems. Hilo is able to expand in that sense. Also, part of the college’s justification is to have it based in a rural area.”
Ruderman said that while he already has had high hopes for the project earning approval this time around, the governor’s support will make the job of selling the building to legislators that much more convincing.
“I do think it’s a very large statement to make it his top priority,” he said of Abercrombie. “The governor has his friends, and his enemies, but he’s got a bully pulpit, and he’s going to be able to pound the drum for this. It’s a big deal.”
Pezzuto said he and other university administrators continue to work hard to head off any issues that might serve to hurt support for the building. Without a building, the college’s accreditation is likely in jeopardy, he said.
“Now is the time to do something,” he said. “First of all, because we deserve it, and second of all to avoid dire consequences. … It’s a critical time in our development.”
While the UH Board of Regents recently instituted a moratorium on all new building projects as it tries to keep up with badly needed repairs and maintenance, the College of Pharmacy project has been included on a list of exceptions that were made for projects that have been labeled by the university as “critically important,” Pezzuto said.
“We are on that list, and we are ranked as the No. 1 top priority,” he said.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.
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