Security upgrades planned at Hawaii State Hospital, but some question high price tag

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The long-awaited construction of a new mental health facility at Hawaii State Hospital is picking up speed.

But some are raising eyebrows at how much the state wants to spend on a security fence around the hospital.

Rep. Andria Tupola tells us the state is showing the public that it’s increasing security ever since a patient, Randall Saito, escaped to California, but she wants to see if that security fence is really going to solve the problem.

The state just awarded a contract of $140 million to build a 144-bed facility at the state hospital.

Just last week, Gov. David Ige sent a message to lawmakers asking for $17.4 million for a security fence.

“I think people are a little up in arms about how large that number is for a fence,” she said. “Obviously in the finance committee, when we talk about the supplemental budget, there’s going to have to be details disclosed, and that’s what everyone wants to know.”

We asked the Department of Health why the security fence could cost this much.

In an email, a spokesperson said the cost was based on the perimeter of the campus, which is about 92 acres of land. It would be 12 feet high with no-climb mesh, barbed wires, and gate controllers to name a few.

“The security fence estimate was determined by the Dept. of Accounting and General Services (DAGS).  They based the cost on security fencing for the entire perimeter of the campus (12 ft. high security fence with 6 ft. of chain link and 6 ft. of no climb mesh on the upper portion with 2 barbed wires at the top, double vehicle and pedestrian gates, gate access controllers, vehicle sensors, and site clearing in wooded areas to allow for clear views of the fence line.  The fence estimate is for perimeter fencing for the entire campus which sits on 91.8 acres of land.”

Tupola tells us she does not know the details of the security fence, but would want to talk to staff first.

“Anyone would agree a fence shouldn’t cost that much unless we are not understanding what the fence is going to be made out of,” she said. “The people who know best should be the people who work here every day, and I would like to see accountability on the ground level, how many people are staffed and what they think would be better to do — a fence as opposed to more staff members.”

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