Star Bulletin Editorial Board: Mayor Should Rethink Natatorium Demolition

EDITORIAL Rethink Natatorium plan

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 29, 2009

Demolishing the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium might not be the inexpensive way to deal with the deteriorating landmark that Mayor Mufi Hannemann was advised it would be.

Previously unforeseen costs of demolition should cause the city to instead consider renovating and maintaining the memorial when it becomes feasible in a recovered economy.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is recommending restoration of the memorial, pointing out that demolition would involve extensive environmental studies that could result in rejection of such a course. The memorial was built in 1927 to honor the veterans of World War I and is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Closed in 1963 because of poor water quality, the pool where Duke Kahanamoku once swam laps was cited for restoration at a projected cost of $6.1 million during the administration of Jeremy Harris. Hannemann immediately canceled the plan upon taking office in 2005, calling it a waste of tax dollars. He assigned a task force this year to look further into the issue.

The Army Corps of Engineers has determined that turning the pool into a sandy beach would cost $1.7 million to $6.3 million, not counting the cost of the demolition itself. Restoring it has been estimated at several times that amount.

However, National Trust attorney Brian R. Turner asserted in a letter to the mayor’s task force last week that “several environmental and historic preservation laws” could drive the cost of demolition much higher. It could include preparation of an environmental impact statement to address concerns about destroying an historic site and adversely affecting the quality of the environment, with no guarantee of ultimate approval.

Turner noted that demolition also could pose a risk to threatened or endangered species off the Waikiki coastline. He pointed out that the Corps of Engineers has indicated that the Sheraton Hotel’s proposal to create a beach off the Waikiki coast may require an examination of its effect on “fishery resources” to adhere to federal law. Demolition could trigger a similar examination, Turner suggested.

As for a legal requirement that an expensive mechanical pump system for frequent flushing be installed at the pool, Turner proposed that the law be changed. That might be justified but only if concerns that reducing staphylococcus, a bacteria that causes pus in boils and abscesses, are shown to be unfounded.
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