A new space for seeing clearly

KAHULUI – Complete with nine different teaching laboratories, an observatory, a rooftop garden, wind turbines and a photovoltaic system, University of Hawaii Maui College’s long-awaited $26 million science facility is expected to open in the next few weeks.

The facility was originally slated to open last August, but David Tamanaha, vice chancellor of administrative affairs, said in a written statement Wednesday that some changes were made to the scope of the building, which meant an adjustment in the construction schedule.

But he added that “our new science facility is as innovative as the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs it will support, and we’re excited that students this spring will be able to take advantage of its cutting-edge laboratories and scientific equipment.”

Longtime science professor John Pye shares in the enthusiasm, saying he is excited about the possibilities the new facility will give the students.

“In addition to providing dedicated teaching labs with more modern equipment for our various science disciplines, we’ll also have a student study and resource area where students can work together and easily connect with faculty,” he said in an email.

The facility on the college’s Kahului campus is named ‘Ike Le’a, which means “to see clearly.” The name reflects the value of discovering the unknown, the college said.

As workers were putting finishing touches on the building Wednesday morning and Pye was busy making sure equipment was functional, one important thing was already in place in the building’s lobby: a framed portrait of the late Central Maui state Rep. Bob Nakasone.

School and state officials have credited Nakasone, who died in 2008, for the budget allocation that made the facility possible, noting that Nakasone had always supported the college.

The portrait will be unveiled prior to the opening of the building.

Work on the 28,000-square-foot building, along with adjacent facilities, began in 2010. It is also designed to meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design gold standard certification.

The reinforced one-story, concrete-and-steel structure contains nine separate laboratory classrooms for marine science; microbiology and biotechnology; general biology; anatomy and physiology/human biology; chemistry; astronomy; physics; electro-optics and a multipurpose laboratory that will house shared equipment and serve as a preparatory facility to set up for laboratory class material. It also will be used to carry out research by community researchers, UH-MC faculty and students.

The 45-foot-tall building houses a library resource and student study area, which is near faculty offices, and there is a 120-seat lecture hall.

On one of the building’s roofs is a deck area that serves as a “quiet garden area.” Already planted Wednesday were grasses and other plants in a rock garden. The roof contains “light tubes” that run from the ceilings of the building up onto the roof. The tubes allow light to filter into the building.

Pye said students will only be able to access the “living green” roof for class or lab work under faculty supervision.

One of the higher points of the building is its photovoltaic panels and eight small wind turbines that will generate an estimated 20 to 25 percent of the building’s energy needs, the school said.

Adjacent to the main building is a teaching observatory that has a retractable roof to allow students and teachers to use telescopes and instruments to support laboratory work and research.

Pye said that since the college can operate the Faulkes Telescope on top of Haleakala over the Internet and download data, students can also receive this information at the school.

The new science facility includes an adjacent chiller building, a 61-stall paved parking lot and access road, and a drying yard and storage facility for marine sciences programs.

An outdoor area will be used for aquaculture projects and practicing research techniques.

Pye, who is also known as “the science guy” and has spent 30 years teaching at the college, said that in the future the Science Department will be able to have new types of classes and programs in the new space. But for now, faculty members are focusing on moving in and accommodating regularly scheduled classes and labs.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at