The Star-Advertiser editorialized Saturday morning in support of Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s plan to take back control of the War Memorial Natatorium from the city and county of Honolulu and explore alternatives to demolition.
As the governor’s press secretary, Donalyn Dela Cruz, said in an earlier Star-Advertiser news story, “The governor believes it’s time for it to be fixed, or have a purpose.”
The Friends of the Natatorium are deeply appreciative of the governor’s stepping up to finally and conclusively address an issue that’s been on and off politicians’ radar screens since the 1970s. We also very much appreciate the Star-Advertiser’s support for the governor’s initiative.
It’s not clear what the outcome will be. The governor has suggested creating a beach volleyball venue. We’re open to any discussion, but still prefer restoring the Natatorium to its original purpose: Honoring our veterans and war dead by giving us a place to swim and enjoy the very freedoms for which they fought and, too often, died.
“We’re in major evaluation mode,” Dela Cruz told the Star-Advertiser. “It all depends on what’s safe, what can be done, and what’s affordable.”
While that evaluation is under way, it’s important to keep all our facts straight and all the long, complicated history in mind. With that aim, here is some perspective, plus a few clarifications, on today’s Star-Advertiser editorial.
— Yes, Mayor Hannemann accepted a recommendation three years ago that the Natatorium be demolished. Keep in mind, however, that the task force was appointed by Hannemann, a pro-demolition mayor who, upon taking office, had canceled an ongoing Natatorium preservation and restoration project.
— That project had, by 2001, been fully studied (an environmental impact study was approved), permitted and funded. Construction had begun. After a construction hiatus due to a fight over state rules for saltwater pools, Mayor Hannemann came into office and pulled the plug. Had he not, we would have been swimming at the Natatorium by 2005.
— Yes, the stacked 2009 task force gave Mayor Hannemann the recommendation he wanted. But it was far from unanimous. When you count the votes of all members present and the proxy votes of those who could not attend the final meeting, the vote was 9-6. All six dissenters signed a minority report. At least one member of the majority in 2009 would vote our way today.
— The Natatorium is dedicated, actually, not only to those who died but to all the more than 10,000 soldiers and sailors from Hawai’i who served in World War I.
— Demolition (and saving Kaimana Beach from the certain erosion that would follow) would actually cost more than action to stabilize the Natatorium and preserve our long-term options for final renewal and reopening. Stabilization would also preserve the public’s considerable investment in the Natatorium’s restrooms, showers, ocean safety offices and bleachers, all completed as part of the project later halted by Mayor Hannemann.
— The State Health Department rules for salt water swimming were never about public safety or water quality at the Natatorium. The rules pertaining to circulation and pump systems have no relevance to swimming safely in a pool filled with ocean water that turns over three to 10 times a day. The rules contain exemptions that apply to every other manmade ocean swim site in the state, including the Hilton Lagoon and Kuhio Beach enclosures. We are confident that the re-engineered design for the Natatorium qualifies for one or more of these exemptions and meets the water quality testing standards that apply to all Hawaii beaches.
What do you think?
Mahalo for your interest in the Natatorium. You are vital to our chances of getting things put to right at last. If you have any questions or comments, use the comment form below or reach us by email.