The College Hill mansion, home of the University of Hawai‘i system president, will receive a $680,000 renovation this year. This is the most recent in a series of repairs over the last decade that have already cost the university at least $1.3 million.
State law requires that historic buildings be repaired using materials identical to the original – and College Hill falls into that category, according to Vassilis Syrmos, associate vice chancellor for research and graduate education and member of the Campus Facilities Planning Board.
The original materials used to build College Hill are not ideal for Hawai‘i’s tropical climate and are prone to water damage and termites. But if the mansion is to be renovated, it is required by law to be repaired using these same expensive and damage-prone materials.
To illustrate, Syrmos compared asphalt roofing used for modern buildings to the royal single cedar roof of College Hill. “A royal single cedar roof costs about $35 per square foot; the asphalt roofing we typically use today costs about $15 per square foot.”
NO EASY TASK
The installation of the roof, along with other repairs, are labor-intensive and must be done by specialized architects. Hundred-year-old window mechanisms are being replaced, the wooden siding of the building must be specially milled and wooden ornaments that are either missing or water damaged are being replaced.
Termites have been found and have so far contributed to an addtional $15,000 in repairs. The house is also receiving a solar water heater and renovations to make the first floor American Disability Act accessible.
To avoid these problems in the future, Syrmos suggested that the university devote resources to inspections and a comprehensive maintenance plan for College Hill, which would lengthen the lifespan of materials. “We truly look at this seriously; otherwise in 10 years we’ll have the same problems.”
VACANT AT PRESENT
College Hill has been used to house UH presidents since it was donated to the university in 1963. Current UH System President M.R.C. Greenwood does not live in College Hill, but is instead allocating it to be used as “a system resource and ... as a venue for official University of Hawai‘i events and functions that are directly related to and promote accomplishments of the university’s mission,” according to College Hill Guidelines.
In the past three years, it has been used for meetings, receptions, lunches, dinners and retreats. Student groups like Associated Students of the University of Hawai‘i, the Regents and Presidential Scholars and the Student Caucus have utilized the mansion, although it is primarily used by non-students.
The College Hill guidelines state that only the president, Board of Regents members, vice presidents and chancellors may request use of College Hill. These are referred to in the guidelines as “requestors.” Requestors may also make reservations for the University of Hawai‘i Foundation and the University of Hawai‘i Alumni Association.
According to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser article published on Feb. 16, 2011, $115,000 is spent anually to maintain College Hill.
The university did not respond to questions asking for updated figures on College Hill’s currrent maintenance costs and how this compares to other venues used for similar purposes.
Greenwood currently resides in a condo in Waikīkī and receives a monthly $5,000 housing stipend.