New gathering place on UH Hilo campus outside the Sciences and Technology Building has food service and picnic tables with solar powered stations to recharge electronic devices.
The charging stations found on the tables include one 110V outlet for laptops and two USB ports for cell phones.

A new area for students to eat, talk story and recharge their electronic devices is now open outside the Sciences and Technology Building at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. The new gathering place has several tables, each with a solar charging station, a new food vendor serving Mexican cuisine and 15-minute parking spaces.

Each charging station has one 110V outlet for laptops and two USB ports for cell phones. Each station has a 30-minute timer to conserve solar energy stored in batteries when not in use. Timers can be re-activated in 30-minute intervals as needed. The prototype uses one solar panel and battery storage, which can be easily expanded in the future if demand for solar energy to use electronic devices exceeds current capacity.

The project—in sync with UH Hilo’s strategic plan and supported by Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai and Interim Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Kalei Rapoza—is part of two larger long-term initiatives underway at UH Hilo: 1) to create comfortable spaces for students to gather and recharge themselves and their tech devices, and 2) to make the campus more sustainable in its energy use.

The Hawaiʻi CC student work crew that built the tables with instructors and UH Hilo staff.

A team effort

Last fall, UH Hilo information technologist Dave “Moku” Baptiste proposed the idea of a solar-powered gathering place, having been inspired by similar projects at other universities. But the total cost to purchase, deliver and install a four-seat solar panel picnic table charging station originating from the mainland was estimated at $18,000 per table.

With some creative thinking and collaborative efforts, the cost to produce comparable stations (with six to eight seats) was brought down significantly to approximately $2,000 each. The new solar charging stations were built through a collaboration between UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi Community College.

“Lots of really great people collaborated on this project,” said Brenda Hamane, director of special projects at the UH Hilo Office of Administrative Affairs.

“[The project] is reflective of the wealth of talent and creative skills that we have here at UH Hilo and Hawaiʻi Community College,” Hamane said. “UH Hilo’s long standing collaborative work relationship with our supportive partners at Hawaiʻi CC carpentry program continues to produce quality workmanship from Hawaiʻi CC students throughout the years, to include the solar powered picnic tables that UH Hilo could not have otherwise afforded given current budget constraints.”

She added, “The creation of this prototype is the first of many solar powered outdoor furniture that could be designed and constructed in-house.”

For more on the new gathering place go to UH Hilo Stories.

—From UH Hilo Stories

—By Susan Enright