New HVO buildings would include research center at UH-Hilo, field station at HVNP

  • HON

Hawaii Volcano Observatory’s scientist in charge said Tuesday progress is being made toward its new facilities.

Ken Hon acknowledged it’s “a long process” designing and constructing facilities to replace the one formerly situated behind the former Thomas A. Jaggar Museum overlooking Kilauea volcano’s caldera. That facility had to be abandoned because of earthquake damage prior to and during 2018’s prolonged eruption.

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The U.S. Geological Survey’s volcano observatory, for now, is headquartered in a rented, long-term transitional facility in the Hilo Iron Works building.

“We are in the process of working with architects to design two buildings,” Hon said. “One will be a field station in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The other one will be our main research center, which is most likely going to be located on the upper UH-Hilo campus. It looks like it would be a good cooperative agreement if it comes to pass, and it probably will. There’s a lot of synergy between us and the university.

“We’re a little further along in the design of the field station than we are with the Hilo building, but we’re working on that. We’ve been back and forth with the National Park Service about several different design elements and stuff, but we don’t have anything that is final yet. We’re still working on the parameters of what we need in there and how it’s to be arranged.”

A site for the field station hasn’t been selected, but HVNP spokeswoman Jessica Ferracane said “several sites in the Kilauea summit area inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park were considered and shared with the public last summer.”

“Since then the park has been carefully evaluating the sites, and we hope to share the proposed site with the public later this fall or early winter as part of the public scoping for the environmental assessment,” she added.

The Tribune-Herald reported earlier this year Honolulu architecture firm AHL was selected by USGS to design both the 60,000-square-foot integrated research center and the 13,000-square-foot field station.

“In Hilo, we’re more in the beginning of the process,” Hon said. “We’ve outlined what our needs are, and there’s been some kind of preliminary designs. But the idea was to get the park facility going first, because it’s tied in to a lot of the renovations and rehabilitation that the park service is also doing, so we wanted to make sure we’re working within their time frame for that.”

A disaster supplemental relief bill signed into law by then-President Donald Trump in 2019 contained numerous appropriations for the Big Island, including $72.3 million for HVO’s new facilities in Hilo and to continue operations in the Hilo Iron Works. In addition, Hawaii U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono announced that $21 million in funding was secured for HVO to rebuild its field station.

“We have a very supportive congressional delegation that has gotten us funds. So we’re funded to get buildings,” Hon said. “… I can tell you is that COVID has definitely driven up building costs because production has been limited on a lot of things, and the cost of building supplies has really skyrocketed in the last year.”

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Although he didn’t have a concrete completion date for HVO’s new digs, Hon said, “I think a good guess is somewhere in the region of five years … to complete the construction and move in.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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