Campus Center Dining Room now offers outdoor seating for social distancing

The new open-air café project was done by work crews from UH Hilo Auxiliary Services. Gene Harada, a carpentry instructor at Hawai‘i Community College, collaborated with the auxiliary team to transform the area.

By Susan Enright

Outdoor eating area.
New outdoor eating area fronting the Campus Center Dining Room, UH Hilo. For the project, work crews removed an old sculpture, the base of which was repurposed into a large concrete table. Courtesy photo.
Large sculpture lifted by crane and guided by Gene Harada.
Gene Harada guides the removal of an old sculpture to make way for the new concrete table. Courtesy photo.

Per guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Hawai‘i Department of Health on social activity during the pandemic, an outdoor dining area was created over the summer to support physical distancing measures at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. A concrete pad was installed on an underutilized area fronting the Campus Center Dining Room to support the new outdoor seating. Citing safety concerns, the work crew also removed an old sculpture, the base of which was repurposed into a large concrete table.

The CDC recommends when dining out, if at all possible, to sit outside at tables spaced at least six feet apart from other people. (CDC also recommends wearing a mask as much as possible when not eating and maintaining a proper social distance if you are dining with others who don’t live with you.) The new outdoor eating area allows patrons of the Campus Center Dining Room to adhere to these recommendations. Existing tables, chairs, and bar stools were relocated outdoors to create the al fresco dining experience.

The project was done by work crews from UH Hilo Auxiliary Services. Gene Harada, a carpentry instructor at Hawai‘i Community College, collaborated with the auxiliary team to transform the area. Working with Harada on this year’s summer projects was especially rewarding for the Auxiliary Services team because they received specialized hands-on training on unique techniques from a master craftsman with decades of experience. Harada generously shared with the UH crew his wealth of knowledge and experience, the value of which will be paid forward to future UH Hilo projects.

Workers smooth out concrete on new table area. Courtesy photo.

UH Hilo Director of Auxiliary Services William Walters sings praises for Harada. “For years the Auxiliary Services team has admired the great work that Gene and his carpentry team have done on campus. This year when our group heard that we would be the ones assisting him, everyone was very excited.” Other campus infrastructure projects done over previous summers include new areas for students to gather, classroom upgrades, new seating areas in the library lobby, a complete overhaul of an old basketball court, and renovations to the inside of the Campus Center Dining Room.

The new outdoor dining setup follows the CDC and Hawai‘i Department of Health guidance, which recommends a maximum of six people, not living in the same household, per group per table, with tables spaced at least six feet apart. The open-air café also has small tables for one person or a maximum of two people. The number of seats per table will be adjusted throughout the semester, as appropriate.

Following the removal of the old sculpture, the base was repaired and a large concrete table top was installed with a cutout to place a succulent plant arrangement. A design by Jerry Watanabe, director of UH Hilo Facilities Planning department. Harada and the auxiliary crew utilized Harada’s concrete countertop techniques with the attention to detail required to create a large, smooth, professional quality outdoor concrete tabletop.

Watanabe also designed a 40-by-40-foot temporary tent structure to provide the outdoor dining area with rain protection while also maintaining an open-air café environment for outdoor seating.

A collaborative project

Gene Harada
Gene Harada

Every summer for the past 20-plus years, Harada and his carpentry students successfully completed more than 350 UH Hilo summer projects, providing UH Hilo with needed infrastructure improvement and Hawai‘i CC students with valuable hands-on construction experience. In many of these projects, Harada and Hawai‘i CC carpentry instructor Daryl Vierra imparted regional knowledge to the students such as how to build rainy weather-inspired picnic tables with roof and gutter protection, and solar-powered electronic device charging stations to support renewable energy.

This summer, the carpentry students were not able to participate due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the need for summer projects remained. Harada modified the traditional summer project setup, providing hands-on instruction to the UH Hilo’s Auxiliary Services team to create the outdoor dining area.

“Gene for many years has supplied local contractors with the best workers. This [outdoor seating project] would be our chance to learn from the master,” explains Walters in an email. “For the opportunity to work with Gene, we were all in! And we came away from the project with great lessons we can now apply elsewhere on campus and in the community. For us, we see Gene as a National Treasure, because he has the patience to teach these vital skills.”

On the team was UH Hilo’s electrician, Shannon Asejo, who installed four outdoor electrical outlets next to each table for students to charge electronic devices. Other specialists were reassigned to help with the removal of the sculpture, the concrete pour and other construction activities: Kenji Kubo and Deaton Silva, air conditioning mechanics; Fred Dela Cruz and Kapena Abiley-DeSa, building maintenance workers; Kyle Tsuda, painter; Eric Rodrigues, plumber; and Russell Strong, grounds maintenance worker.

Kalei Rapoza, interim vice chancellor for administrative affairs, appreciates the infrastructure help given by Harada over the years and the master carpenter’s commitment to providing his students with summer hands-on learning opportunities, and this year, imparting the UH Auxiliary team with new skills.

“I commend Auxiliary Services’ productive team effort on this outdoor dining project,” says Rapoza. “The volume of work requiring completion prior to the start of fall semester provided only four days to complete this outdoor dining project. Gene and the Auxiliary Services team successfully accomplished this without sacrificing quality workmanship.”


Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.