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Editorial | On Politics

Former state building is entryway into black hole


If Hawaii comptrollers grow gray and develop a twitch while in public service, one of the reasons is found on King Street across from downtown’s Hawaiian Electric building.

The state’s Kamamalu Building stands as a boarded-up, nine-story monument to the state bureaucracy’s inability to produce anything other than another study.

The Kamamalu Building was closed in 2003 when its 350 Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs employees moved across the street. Since then its only purpose has been to generate employment for state researchers who have studied what to do with the 57-year-old building.

The studies are important because the new administration of Gov. Neil Abercrombie now has its eyes on refurbishing the building and relocating downtown state workers now toiling away in leased private space.

Bruce Coppa, the new comptroller, is still clear-eyed and steady. He does not know that opening the door to any state building is just the invitation for the ceiling to fall, the walls to crack, the roof to leak, the pipes to rupture and the sewer lines to inexplicably dissolve into rust and muck.

And what he really doesn’t know is that after he is presented with the calamity, he will not be able to just fix it. First he will have to study it, then he will have to ask the Legislature for money for the study, then he will have to issue a call for bids to study it and he will have to defend his decision on the bids when the losers appeal, and then he will be called on the carpet by the Legislature for not completing the study. And Coppa will learn to not open doors.

Back to 1010 Richards St. and the gloriously empty Kamamalu Building.

Abandoning the building was one of the last acts of the Cayetano administration as the state workers moved over to the nicer and more spacious King Kalakaua Building, formerly known as the old federal building.

Russ Saito, Lingle’s competent and hard-working comptroller, looked at Kamamalu and saw nothing but possibility. He talked the Legislature into spending $12.6 million to fix it up, get rid of the asbestos, fix the plumbing, get the elevators up to code and start moving state workers into it. First a $1,276,000 study was needed.

You just know how badly these good intentions are going to turn out.

The repair costs went from $12.6 million to more than $27 million. But still there was a plan: another study showed that the state could move the Health Department into Kamamalu, while the rotting-around-their-ankles old health building was razed and rebuilt.

There were diagrams, models and memoranda of understanding. But the Legislature never came across with the money.

Meanwhile another study showed that the original plan to move state workers out of privately leased space and into Kamamalu, which originally would have saved millions every year, would actually save just $771,000 a year, meaning it would take the state 20 years to get back the money spent on renovating it.

So instead the state hired a company to gut the building, scrape out everything, close the windows and turn off the power.

Earlier this month Abercrombie’s staff toured the building (see

We can only hope they quietly closed the door and vowed to never open it again.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at


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