BY JIM DOOLEY – The state public housing authority bungled repairs of the hot water system at Mayor Wright Homes and now has botched efforts to make the situation right, according to state records.
Yesterday the Hawaii Public Housing Authority asked for, and was denied, permission to spend $798,000 for “emergency” installation of tankless “instant hot water” systems at the 35-building project on Pua Lane in Honolulu.
Aaron Fujioka, Chief Procurement Officer for the state, turned down the request, saying, “The emergency procurement process is not to be used to rectify a situation that was preventable and caused by bad management.”
Instead, Fujioka said, the agency should seek an exemption from the standard competitive bid process and supply a detailed justification for the exemption.
“We are investigating the possibility of an exemption,” said Nicholas Birck, Housing Planner at HPHA.
“We’re going to continue with our normal procurement process and we’re going to see if we can speed things up a little bit,” said Birck.
Late today, the agency submitted the exemption request, but included little justification for awarding the $798,000 non-bid contract to The Gas Company.
“Due to their knowledge and past satisfactory experience at Mayor Wright Homes, we believe it is in thc bcst intcrcsts to work with The Gas Company for the purchase and installation of the instantaneous gas water heater systems,” the request said.
Mayor Wright residents have been complaining for years about occasional and sometimes prolonged lack of hot water in buildings there.
They have protested the situation at the state Capitol and more recently have threatened litigation over the problem.
In rejecting the emergency spending request, Fujioka said HPHA has “long been aware of” deteriorated solar panels and water tanks at Mayor Wright but failed to fix the problem.
“This situation is a consequence of poor management and lack of proper timely response which resulted in the current situation,” Fujioka wrote in denying the emergency spending.
“The emergency procurement process is not to be used to rectify a situation that was preventable and caused by poor management,” Fujioka continued.
Birck noted that many of the problems at HPHA in general and Mayor Wright Homes in particular were longstanding and inherited by the new administrators of the agency. Executive Director Denise Wise has been on the job less than a year and Birck said he arrived in December.
The agency said in its request for the emergency repair work that a consultant it hired to plan an overhaul of the solar heating system went bankrupt.
“The default on this contract caused a delay in the project,” the agency told Fujioka.
“Of the buildings at Mayor Wright Homes, some have solar panels/tanks that are working, but on cloudy days the electrical back-up does not work,” HPHA said.
“On other buildings, the solar systems have prematurely reached the end of their useful life and the solar tanks are leaking.”
A state inspector has threatened to shut down water tanks on several of the buildings.
The tankless instant hot water systems would be supplied and installed by the Gas Company at a cost of $14,000 per system. The total cost would be $798,000 for 57 systems, according to HPHA.
In the meantime, the agency will still proceed with plans to overhaul the solar heating system at Mayor Wright.
When that is complete, the tankless “instant hot water” equipment will serve as a back-up system, HPHA said.
“The Gas Company has installed several gas tankless water heaters at Mayor Wright Homes which have proved to be reliable,” the housing agency said.
State Rep. Karl Rhoads, who has been pushing for repairs at Mayor Wright Homes, said residents there have been denied hot water for far too long.
“At some point, it seems like just the passage of time makes the situation there an emergency,” Rhoads said.
“Maybe they should just haul in some trailers to provide hot showers to people there,” Rhoads said.
Rhoads said he didn’t know where HPHA found the money to pay for the emergency repairs.
Birck said the agency deferring scheduled repair and maintenance work at other HPHA projects to fund the Mayor Wright work.
“We consider lack of hot water to be a major priority,” said Birck.
The administration has sought a $600,000 appropriation from the Legislature this year for Mayor Wright repairs and Rhoads has sponsored a bill that contains $3.1 million for design and installation of a new solar heating and hot water system at the project.
“I’ve been complaining about it for years,” he said. “In some buildings, it was fixed, but not in others,” said Rhoads.
“I just don’t get it,” he continued. “The whole thing has gotten kind of surreal.”