Dream campus envisioned for 19 government agencies on Oahu
By Sandi Kanemori • November 14, 2021
November 14, 2021
The First Responder Technology Campus is being planned to be built on 243 acres of former agriculture land in Mililani. The complex will be an operations and training base. It is envisioned to include office space, classrooms, an auditorium, lodging for visitors and apartments for employees. The project could begin next year and take 15 years to complete.
It’s not uncommon for government agencies to dream up and develop stately facilities, such as a new police headquarters, courthouse or office complex.
Something incredibly grand, however, is being planned on 243 acres of former plantation agriculture land in Mililani for individual and shared use by 19 state, county and federal agencies.
It is an operations and training base geared for law enforcement, fire, defense and other emergency response agencies. The envisioned complex would include office space roughly equivalent to a 37-story tower, classrooms and a 450-seat auditorium, warehouses with 293,000 square feet of storage space, and a parking garage topped by a helipad.
An indoor shooting range also is planned along with outdoor training facilities possibly featuring structures to practice tactical raids and rescues, an obstacle course, a rappelling tower, running track and vehicle driving course.
Amenities in the plan include a fitness center, a competition swimming pool and locker rooms, as well as retail space, a community center and a cafeteria with a kitchen staff that includes a nutritionist.
Then there’s a three-piece lodging component comprising a 150-bed hotel for visitors, a 100-bed dorm with shared bathrooms for recruits, and 400 to 500 workforce housing apartments for employees, trainees and residents from the surrounding community.
About 150 acres would remain mostly undeveloped and accommodate Hawaii National Guard search-and-rescue training.
All of this is bundled as a state-driven project called the First Responder Technology Campus, which germinated from an idea state lawmakers advanced several years ago and now stands to cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Government agencies committed to help produce the campus include the Honolulu Police Department, Honolulu Fire Department, city Department of Emergency Management, state Department of Public Safety, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, two divisions of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the University of Hawaii, the Federal Fire Department, U.S. Marshals Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Office of Homeland Security Investigations.
Some agencies envision the campus for expansion or to relocate operations, while others may be mainly interested in using shared facilities.
Given the cost and involvement of so many agencies at different government levels, it could be difficult to realize the ambitious total vision. Project planners figure construction could begin next year and be done in six phases over 15 years.
“It’s challenging, no doubt,” said Len Higashi, acting executive director of the Hawaii Technology Development Corp., a state agency shepherding planning and development of the first responder campus. “We’re doing our best to set it up for success.”
WHILE such a project would be a first in Hawaii, similar facilities exist on the mainland. A couple of examples are the Georgia Public Safety Training Center and New York State Preparedness Training Center.
Hawaii lawmakers produced their general notion for the project at least seven years ago, dubbing it the First Responders Technology Campus and Cyber Security Command Center.
According to Higashi, part of the impetus was to reduce state facility maintenance requests to the Legislature by having multiple federal, state and county agencies share new facilities and the costs to build and maintain them.
Moving some existing agency facilities out of flood zones, tsunami evacuation zones and areas expected to be impacted by future sea-level rise also was a motivation. Creating jobs in Central Oahu and eliminating the need for training on the mainland were touted as other benefits.
In 2014, the Legislature appropriated $11.5 million to buy the project site — largely forested land just beyond the developed edge of Mililani Mauka — from development firm Castle & Cooke Inc.
Castle & Cooke, which developed Mililani on land it once farmed in pineapple, failed to realize plans for a second phase of a high-tech business park on the site. A first phase called Mililani Tech Park was envisioned exclusively for high-tech tenants but became a general commercial area that includes business offices, self-storage, a church, a preschool and a Target warehouse.
The state bought the failed tech park expansion site for $9.8 million in 2017.
HTDC, the agency led by Higashi, was directed to head up planning and permitting efforts, and to date has spent the better part of $7 million on it, including a market study, conceptual plans and an environmental review.
As part of the regulatory process, HTDC needs to produce an environmental impact statement, which is being prepared by a consultant, and obtain a state land-use change, an amendment to Oahu’s urban growth boundary and a county zoning change.
Beyond the permitting stage, however, it’s uncertain who would develop what and when.
HIGASHI said it hasn’t yet been determined how construction costs would be shared, though a lot of federal money could be available through President Joe Biden’s pending infrastructure spending plan.
“If we’re able to split the costs amongst the stakeholders, there’s a lot of value in that,” Higashi said.
HTDC anticipates soliciting private developers to finance, build and operate the lodging and housing as well as commercial space on parcels leased from the state.
All 19 agencies participated in planning sessions earlier this year following discussions in past years, but last week some weren’t able or willing to publicly convey what they seek.
The FBI, through spokeswoman Tamara Heck, would only say in a statement that it “supports our partners in their efforts to provide better training to all law enforcement and first responders across the state of Hawaii.”
HPD and the U.S. Office of Homeland Security Investigations weren’t able to relay their intentions last week.
The state Department of Public Safety’s Sheriff Division and city Emergency Medical Services could use centralized headquarters, according to HTDC.
The Honolulu Fire Department said it has exceptional needs for bigger and better training facilities that other agencies could use in whole or part. HFD’s existing 35-year-old training center on 5 acres near Pearl Harbor isn’t sufficient to support all training needs that have expanded in recent decades, according to spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy.
The department, which sometimes rents public and private facilities for training, envisions moving most training to the planned Mililani campus to accommodate scenarios including simulated residential neighborhood fires, elevated-rail emergencies, structural collapses, driver training, wilderness rescues, chemical releases, vehicle accidents and mass-casualty incidents.
“The expansion of our responsibilities and the associated training needs have far outstripped our current facility’s ability to support,” McCoy said in an email. “Further, the complexity of incidents the HFD responds to has only increased and this demands greater planning and training with all our partner response agencies. A large, centrally located, shared campus would allow not just the HFD, but all response agencies at the county, state and federal level to plan and train together, increasing efficiency and ultimately the safety of the citizens of Hawaii.”
Costs and funding sources for what HFD desires have yet to be determined.
FOR THE Hawaii National Guard, envisioned facilities would address training needs for a unit that would respond to chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incidents or high-yield explosives, and for a civil support team that helps guard against use of weapons of mass destruction.
Some elements of this planned readiness center include classrooms, training rooms, offices, a kitchen and dining area, vehicle maintenance area and a vault for sensitive equipment and weapons.
Hawaii Department of Defense spokesman Jeff Hickman said multiple benefits will result, including improved and less costly training, enhanced interoper- ability, relocation of critical assets from a tsunami inundation zone at Kalaeloa and better access to flight needs given the proximity of Wheeler Army Airfield.
Hickman said development estimated to cost $50 million to $60 million would be produced under a military construction contract that could be sought in the next 10 to 15 years.
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, which HTDC regards as one the project’s stakeholder champions and was the source of an errant incoming ballistic missile alert in 2018, could move its entire operation from space in Diamond Head Crater created during World War I to the Mililani site by 2026, at an estimated cost of $110 million.
“HI-EMA is eager to explore the details of the proposed project, which has the potential to modernize and improve efficiency and coordination among the government offices crucial to Hawaii’s emergency response efforts,” Luke Meyers, the agency’s administrator, said in a statement.
U.S. Office of Homeland Security Investigations
U.S. Marshals Service
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Fire Department
Hawaii Technology Development Corp.
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency
Hawaii National Guard
Office of Homeland Security/Fusion Center
Department of Transportation Airport Rescue Fire Fighters
Department of Transportation Harbor Police
Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife
Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement
Department of Public Safety
Office of Enterprise Technology Services
University of Hawaii Community College System
Department of Emergency Management
Emergency Medical Services
Honolulu Police Department
Honolulu Fire Department