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Manoa to close Gateway House residence hall following power problem

Student and staff residents to be relocated elsewhere on campus

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Jan 8, 2004

The repeated failure of an aging electrical power transformer over the last several days has led to a decision to close the UH Manoa Gateway House student residence hall for an indefinite period — just as students are preparing to return to campus for the Spring semester.

"The power has been on and off in Gateway for extended periods over the last few days, and our electricians have not been able to determine what the cause of the problem is," said Margit Watts, Interim Director of Student Housing. "It became a safety and security issue. We didn‘t want to move our students and staff into the building this weekend and then have to move them out again.

"Fortunately, our student housing staff has been able to find substitute quarters for virtually all of the 220 people who will have to be relocated so that they can be settled in by the time classes begin on Monday," Watts added. "We will be on the telephones today and tomorrow to make sure students and their families know what‘s going on and what their options are for substitute accommodations."

Gateway House — along Dole Street at the intersection of East-West Road — is the home-away-from-home for 214 students and six staff. The electrical transformer that regulates the building‘s power supply shut down a week ago, and maintenance staff replaced a fuse. That brought only temporary relief and the transformer shut down again a few days later. Power was restored again as UH electricians and an engineering consultant began looking for the cause of the failure.

"Everyone agrees that the transformer is old and rusting and needs to be replaced," Watts said, "but it‘s possible that the fuse is blowing because of a problem somewhere else in the system. It could be that last week‘s heavy rains contributed to the problem; it could be that we‘re just dealing with an old building that needs some work. That‘s what we‘re looking for now.

"However, beyond the power problem," Watts added, "we see this as an opportunity to do a complete survey of the building to address an assortment of maintenance needs. This is a long term closure; we don‘t anticipate that Gateway will be occupied again until we can either assure that it is totally safe and sound, or — in the worst case scenario — start planning for a replacement building."

According to Wayne Fujishige, Director of UH Manoa Auxiliary Enterprises, the campus has retained the services of Siemens Westinghouse engineering consultants to work with UH staff to conduct an exhaustive floor-by-floor inspection and testing of the electrical system. "We‘ll be in a better position to know what we‘re dealing with once we receive the consultant‘s report, which may be within a day or so," Fujishige said. "At that point, we may issue bids for a new transformer, but best estimates indicate that it might take as long as three or four months to custom-build the equipment. Engineers considered bringing in a generator with enough capacity to power the building during the interim, but there was no guarantee that the generator itself might not fail if the cause of the problem is somewhere within the building‘s power distribution system. This will definitely be a long term challenge"

Gateway House was opened more than forty years ago during a period of rapid expansion of Manoa campus facilities in the 1960s and 70s. "This was my first home in Hawaiʻi when I came to Manoa a year and a half ago," recalled Chancellor Peter Englert. "My time in the dorm environment was a real learning experience, and it is one of the reasons that we have paid special attention to student housing this year.

"I know the building well," he added, "and I know that it is showing its age, as are many of the other buildings on the campus. We have made some progress on deferred maintenance in the last couple of years, but the backlog of projects is still more than $80 million. These things catch up with you eventually."

Englert congratulated the student housing staff for quickly responding to the challenge of locating alternate housing for students assigned to Gateway rooms. "Everyone understands that we need to focus on student needs and creating a supportive living and learning environment. Almost everyone will be housed elsewhere on campus, and we will be doing our best to minimize the inconvenience."

Information for Gateway House Residents

- Alternative housing has been identified in other residence halls within the student housing complex on the makai campus, at the East-West Center, and at the ʻOhana Reef Towers in Waikiki through the Affiliated Student Housing (ASH) program.

- Students checking into Gateway this weekend will be offered alternate spaces on a first-come, first-served basis.

- Manoa campus Auxiliary Enterprises has arranged for boxes, van service and extra campus shuttle service to be available for students who need to move their personal dorm room furnishings and other items to new quarters.

- Students who choose to cancel their housing contracts will receive full refunds for the semester. There will be no extra charges for students who move into more expensive rooms; students who move into rooms less expensive will be refunded the difference in cost.

- Students and families may call an information hotline — (808) 956-7141 — for help in answering questions.