The label says the "West is Best," but a bottled water program at UH West Oahu is not gaining much support from state lawmakers.
"I just can't believe it," said Rep. Mark Takai of Aiea. "It's one of those things that you go, 'Are you kidding?'"
"I don't know what to say about it, it's just mind-boggling," added Senate President Donna Mercado Kim. "Somebody should've stopped this program."
The idea to manufacture bottled water for the fledgling campus was spearheaded by former UH West Oahu Chancellor Gene Awakuni, who retired last year. According to UHWO spokeswoman Leila Shimokawa, the school has spent $9,639 to purchase 360 cases of bottled water after Awakuni approved the program in June, 2010.
Current UH West Oahu Chancellor Rockne Freitas declined to discuss the bottled water program with KITV4, but must decide whether to continue the concept once a contract with Pacific Allied Products expires on June 30.
Lawmakers approached by KITV4 about the bottled water program pointed to financial issues at UH West Oahu since the new campus in Kapolei opened in August, 2012.
"In terms of construction and classrooms and other resources, it's been difficult for the university to get the funding that it needs," said state Sen. Will Espero, who represents the Ewa Beach area. "I'm certain that we could've found other areas where we could spend $10,000 that would be more beneficial to the students or to the professors and the staff."
Earlier this year a deal to sell 39 acres of UHWO land to the Catholic Church fell through after a letter of intent was allowed to expire. The deal had hoped to raise $12 million for the university's operating expenses. Meanwhile in 2010, the school sold a 6-acre parcel to Japan's Tokai University for $6 million.
"You can ask any student with the university system and their biggest concern is the cost of tuition rising, and I think we just have to be very focused on using money wisely at the university," said Takai. "Ten thousand dollars may not seem like a lot to some people, but to any student that's a lot of money."
UHWO bottled water sells for a $1 at the school's cafeteria and vending machines, which accounts for 85-percent of the cases purchased so far. Shimokawa said the program has yet to turn a profit, and Awakuni was not required to have the concept approved by superiors within the University of Hawaii system.
"You can't nickel and dime everything, but there should be policies as to what kind of programs the campuses are looking at and where they're putting their focus," said Kim, when asked about Awakuni's decision.
When asked about the lack of checks and balances concerning purchases like the bottled water program at UHWO, University of Hawaii spokeswoman Lynne Waters issued the following statement:
"Public universities nationwide routinely produce logo items to spread their brand and to use in student recruitment, and campuses at UH have the flexibility to procure these items at their discretion."
State lawmakers are currently considering $5 million for the expansion of programs and staff at UH West Oahu as part of the state's operating budget.