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By Richard Powers. April 18, 2012 - 1:29 pm
HPU president Dr. Geoffrey Bannister held an open discussion with students and faculty in the Sea Warrior’s Center April 13 concerning the future of the university and its expansion plans for Aloha Tower Marketplace for housing, sports, concerts and other issues.
“Priority number one is better housing for students,” Bannister said. “We are currently negotiating for about 850 bed spaces to add to the 200 that we have at the Hawaii Loa campus. Our surveys of students show that you want the housing principally downtown. So we are looking to add about 200 beds to the Hawaii Loa campus to bring that up to 400, and about another 500-600 in the downtown area.”
Present plans place future downtown student housing in the second floor of the Aloha Tower Marketplace, though much of the surrounding area factors into the expansion as well.
“We’re hoping that we will not only be able to utilize the second floor of the Aloha Tower, but we’re also negotiating on the use of some of the larger structures nearby there,” Banister said. “We’re looking at a spot down there as well for a community gathering building so I’m hopeful that we will be adding space by as early as about 12 months from now.”
While there is still at least a month before a public hearing will be scheduled regarding the Aloha Tower expansion, Bannister expressed his confidence in the plan.
“Basically all we have to do in terms of zoning is add the word educational to the mix of already approved uses,” Bannister said. “What we’re doing is putting lofts that are suitable for young professionals, so it’s not a college dorm we’re putting in there; it is in fact young professional lofts.”
“Part of the Aloha Tower deal is we get some extra parking. I’ve been in the higher ed business for about thirty odd years. The one thing I never solved is parking. I’ll try, but it’s pretty hard to solve. It’s expensive, and it’s going to stay expensive here.”
With a going rate of $50,000 per parking space, increases to student and faculty parking may be far off yet.
Some of the plans for the structures surrounding Aloha Tower include the creation of a basketball arena to finally give HPU’s teams a home venue for their games. A practice court is being considered for one of the other facilities.
In response to a student question about getting more people to attend athletic events and campus spirit, Bannister said:
“I think a lot of people won’t have interest in basketball so the other things we’ll have to do are strengthen the team, strengthen the field of play, and also run some concerts along with them. We have space for an outdoor concert program that can go on next to where the basketball will be, so that should make it more attractive.”
ADPR Junior Olivia Opdahl asked about the future of the music program’s performance and practice spaces, and Bannister explained what to expect sometime next year.
“I think we will be able to deal with the performance faster than we can deal with the practice space,” Bannister said. “We should have about a 1,500-seat concert auditorium ready in about 15 months.”
However, Bannister said a practice space is harder to find for acoustical reasons.
“We continually try to improve the quality of the faculty,” Bannister said. “We hired 25 new PhD faculty this year, we expect to be hiring about 100+ new faculty members over the next five years. Are there some people who are not performing? I believe so, and I believe it shows up in the student evals, which I do read.”
A recent change made to the evaluation process is that student evaluations now go to the faculty and appear in faculty portfolios for promotion requests. So, with this reform, it is expected that student evaluations will carry more weight with HPU’s faculty.
Student body Vice President Anne Haugaard discussed the importance of student evaluations.
“If something’s going on in the classroom that isn’t right or doesn’t feel right, please, take that to the dean of that college and address it, because that’s how we fix these problems,” Haugaard said.
Another concern with HPU’s expansion plans is what these changes will mean for tuition costs. While Bannister stated that tuition for the nursing program will remain relatively the same, increases in other programs are necessary.
“Quite frankly, we can’t operate a first-class independent university at $16,500 in one of the most expensive cities in the country and pay faculty a fair wage,” Bannister said.
Bannister expects some difficulty with gaining approval for various aspects of the expansion, namely expansions to the HLC, but said a solid financing plan is in the works.
“To help fund a lot of these things, we are going to the State Legislature for what is called a tax exempt bond financing [more than $100 million] for all of these projects so the cost doesn’t all hit the books of the institution at once, so we can spread that over a number of years,” Bannister said. “My hope is that 3-4 years from now we will have better student union, better facilities, better classrooms and hopefully better salaries for the faculty.”
Photo: Maren Bjoergum