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Editorial: Major state assets left to deteriorate

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Sometimes a quick fix is all that’s needed. But all too often in Hawaii, where deferred maintenance has been the rule rather than the exception, deeper problems that go unsolved can cause damage far worse than the cost of a full repair.

The Hawai‘i Convention Center stands as a prime example of this issue, but there are many more. The needs of the state’s hospitals also signal that unattended repairs limit the full use of the facilities, a handicap Hawaii cannot afford in its strained health-care sector.

The convention center may make the most obvious case for why prompt attention is needed — and for the needless risk of letting the timetable for repairs slip any further.

Few buildings have the potential for making an impression, good or otherwise, on its intended users, those visiting Hawaii for business as well as pleasure. Promoting Hawaii as a place for both business and vacation was one of the arguments for building it in the first place, an investment of $200 million when it opened in 1998. And yet last year, lawmakers confronting the center’s leaking roof were persuaded to appropriate only $15 million for minimal fixes instead of the $64 million to complete the job.

Were politics at play in tightening the purse strings then? Let’s hope not. Maintenance and repair funding of our public facilities should be based on actual practical need, without political calculation or horsetrading.

If it was fiscal worries then, those surely have subsided now. This is prime time for making repairs to Hawaii’s facilities, for multiple reasons.

The state has a surplus, and even more to the point for capital improvement projects, a stellar bond rating. Gov. Josh Green underscored that point Monday in an appearance on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Spotlight Hawaii” webcast.

“I’m very mindful of what could happen as far as the global economy goes, and therefore it would be a good time to have our workers actually on the job, fixing stuff,” he added.

And the advantage of pursuing relatively small jobs such as repairs, Green said, is that it’s a way to “get the most bang for your buck” without as much of a problem with inflation driving up costs, as compared to large new construction projects.

The longer basic repairs are postponed, the more the problems can spread and compound the expense, even beyond inflationary factors. In the convention center’s case, costs are projected to increase over three years by at least 35%, a current $64 million price tag morphing into $88 million.

Further, without the center’s deck being fully repaired, the appeal and possible use of the facility is curbed. Having the use of a rooftop deck for a convention in a locale with Hawaii’s climate is a selling point for the venue. Procrastinating is the classic penny-wise, pound-foolish act.

Myriad fixes needed at other venues should get the commitment this year that has been lacking. A chief concern that has surfaced is the need for repairs at state-owned hospitals such as Hilo Medical Center and, even more critically, Kona Community Hospital.

Green, a physician, points to the Kona hospital’s problems with air quality. Letting that worsen could render its intensive care and surgical units unusable. The Hawaii Health Systems Corp. that manages these hospitals has set the costs for Hilo and Kona, respectively, at $50 million and $20 million. Hilo is now slated to get $25 million, with only $7 million budgeted for Kona.

Where is the smart fiscal planning in that? Rural hospitals unable to function properly are compelled to send more patients to Honolulu, which has its own capacity problems to solve. Funding repair work should rank high on the state’s job list.

“We’ve really turned the page on the last generation of governance,” Green said, perhaps too optimistically. “Now’s the time, with our surplus, to go at this.”

If not now … when?

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