BY NANCY COOK LAUER | WEST HAWAII TODAY
HILO — An agricultural research center on a hillside overlooking Hilo is getting a little bigger, thanks to a $6.2 million federal grant celebrated Friday at a dedication ceremony.
The U.S. Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center is one of about 100 such facilities scattered across the globe. The Hawaii center has researched the papaya ringspot virus, fruit flies, nematodes, purple sweet potatoes and other problems and opportunities unique to the tropics.
The expansion adds 4,500 square feet of technical office and conference space to the 35,000-square-foot, $48 million first phase of the facility. It houses 15 scientists and 65 support staff on 30 acres.
“We’re dedicating a building today, but it is more than bricks and mortar,” said Sylvia Yuen, interim dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “The legacy will continue in the research … that will help solve serious agricultural problems.”
Facilities include laboratories, greenhouses and what’s called the “head house,” where plants are worked on before and after they’re in the greenhouse environment. The head house is equipped with photovoltaic cells generating 40 kilowatt-hours of electricity.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, was on hand to commemorate the day, saying the facility was enlarged with “congressional intent, which is a fancy word for earmark.”
Inouye suggested the facility be named for Director Dennis Gonsalves, who’s been director since 2002 and is recognized worldwide for his work on genetically modified virus resistant papaya.
Hawaii Mayor Billy Kenoi was among the dignitaries at the event.
“We’ve been very appreciative of the senator simply because he’s done so much for agriculture and this island,” Kenoi said.
Inouye smiled and nodded as speaker after speaker heaped praise on him and thanked him for his help getting funding for the agricultural research center.
“I’ve tried it, but I do not walk on water — yet,” Inouye joked.