State of the art ocean center dedicated to Tauese Sunia


Renovations to the old Utulei Convention Center are completed and the new facility, now “a state-of-the-art center” has been renamed the Tauese P.F. Sunia Ocean Center, in honor of the late governor, who served as the territory’s chief executive from 1997 until his sudden passing in March of 2003.

The project, awarded to Fletcher Construction with an original contract sum of $1.2 million, was dedicated last Friday with local and federal government officials invited along with community leaders. The building's three change orders had the final sum for renovations at more than $2.5 million.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono, who was Tauese’s lieutenant governor, told the audience that the celebration last Friday was to dedicate the center to the late governor, who described Tauese as a “visionary leader in the efforts of conservation” and an original U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF) member, who, when he appeared for the first time on that task force, was not a member, because American Samoa was not a member of the federal group.

“He saw that there was an injustice in that,” Togiola noted.

“[Tauses] immediately sought, successfully, to admit all of the territories and insular areas to membership on this great working task force, in this working body of our federal government and our nation,” Togiola told the gathering, which included top federal officials and off-island delegates of the 28th Meeting of the Task Force set to open today at the Governor H. Rex Lee Auditorium.

“We are honored to honor that great leader by naming this wonderful facility... that has been built to endure and to last, that will help convey to generations of American Samoans and the world, shall traverse through the contents of this building and the wonderful efforts that he has helped us bring to this day,” said Togiola.

Before the unveiling of the name of the center, former first lady Fagaoali’i Sunia spoke about the labor of love and her late husband. “When others are honored by loved ones, the flame will burn even brighter than before,” she said and thanked Togiola  for commemorating the memory of her  late husband by naming the new center after him.

Master of Ceremony Nanai Afuola said Tauese was a ‘Man of the People’ and  “was someone who believed in the Samoan way of doing things and the need to hold on to our culture, our language and our traditions.”

“He also recognized the need to preserve our heritage, our land and our ocean for the future of this island and its people,” said Nanai who is the deputy secretary of Samoan Affairs.

As for the new center itself, Togiola said “one of the great things about doing great things [is that] you don’t have to try and explain why you do it. Because they speak for themselves. And when they do, they speak louder and they speak with authority.”

He  thanked Mrs. Sunia for allowing the government to name the center after Tauese, who was dedicated to “his culture, family and education” and these three things were "dear to his heart”.

The governor went on to say that “our ocean and its resources" are part of the Samoan heritage. 

“Our lands and its resources are part of that heritage. They come together in this great building. They come together in this great project,”  he said and thanked the federal government including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuaries for their support.

Daniel J. Basta, director of the National Marine  Sanctuaries, also spoke at the dedication, calling the center “one of our most prideful visitors centers and we have many of them in the sanctuary system.”

“This is the one that is the most culturally attuned to a local community and culture,” he said. “This is the one that is a little bit different because it's about an intact culture, called American Samoans. It's a Polynesian culture.”

Following the speeches was the unveiling of the Tauese P.F. Sunia sign, with the honor given to Mrs. Sunia and First Lady MaryAnn Tulafono of cutting of the ribbon to officially open the center. This was followed by a tour of the center as well as a presentation inside of what the center is to provide to visitors.

As part of the dedication program, Basta presented Togiola with the ‘Life Time Achievement Award’  for his outstanding work in preserving the natural and cultural resources in American Samoa. “With all humility, I accept this great award on behalf and for the people who insist that we do what we do,” the governor said.

The “state of the art” — fully air conditioned center provides visitors and residents with the opportunity to learn about the natural and cultural resources of American Samoa.

Inside, at the center of the facility, is a “Science On a Sphere” which is a room-size global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six-foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe.

The way in which the sphere works was demonstrated during the tour of the facility, where it can be lowered down for public tours and taken up when the center is holding a conference.

According to NOAA, animated images of atmospheric storms, climate change, and ocean temperatures can be shown on the sphere, which is used to explain what are sometimes complex environmental processes, in a way that is simultaneously intuitive and captivating.


Located on edge of the fuel dock, former Rainmaker hotel side, the old convention center was the former home of a community theatre group and in its last incarnation was used for government meetings and workshops.

It was renovated with funds from the local Commerce Department under the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The project's architect is Joe N. Weilenman and the contractor is Fletcher Construction, with sub contractors Kooline Refrigeration and Young Electric, according to information printed in the dedication ceremony program.

Renovation of the center is a complete makeover — or rather a rebuild from the ground up — as residents witnessed the construction work, since the project broke ground last year. 

As per documents Samoa News received last week, the project was completed with three change orders that amount to the final cost of the building — $2.64 million — and a final completion extension date of Aug. 17, 2012.

The third change order was dated July 11, 2012, for the amount of $392,811.30 “for added services and completion of the convention center renovation; and due to this, a final “extension for Fletcher Construction’s contract, amending the completion date from July 12 to Aug. 17, 2012.”

The third change order shows that the original contract price was $1.24 million, while “previous change orders” came to $2 million. Adding the third change order, the “new contract sum” stands at $2.64 million.

This third change order shows that the attorney general, Fletcher official, budget office and department directors all signed off on it and their signatures were made last month. 

The Fletcher official signing is the construction company’s general manager, Dean Hudson, who is a former chairman of the local Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC), resigning last year. He is the person who oversees Fletcher projects in the territory.

Samoa News efforts to obtain information about the first two-change orders were unsuccessful but the third charge order shows a variety of purchases, such as $191,184 for “siteworks”; just over $119,000 for “furniture supply” (desks, chairs, tables, cabinets & accessories); $4,300 for a “replacement plaque”; $70,665 for “visitor center exhibit installation features”; $18,768 for “catering room”; $27,742 for “gift shop joinery”; $20,000 for “opening services preparation & execution”; and $3,005 for “ground breaking costs” from May of last year.

There is a pending cost of $70,000 that Commerce Department has put out in a public notice, saying that DOC will submit a request to U.S. Housing and Urban Development to reprogram $70,000 in funding from the Ocean Center project to the Pago Pago Commercial Building, aka the Fagatogo Market Place.

According to the public notice, this reprogramming request is to complete the inside finishing of the marketplace rotunda, especially to improve the acoustics system that is one of the biggest drawbacks to the use of the facility due to the strong echo effect and inability to hear people talk.

In addition, part of the fund will be expended on site improvement for the marketplace, such as entrance access to the premises. Since the facility is in the Central Business District, it is critical that it is readily accessible for public use, according to the public notice, published last month in Samoa News.


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