Tuesday, October 21, 2003

State of Hawaii

Land buy offers
Aiea Library hope

Lingle has signed a letter
of intent to buy five lots at
the former Aiea Sugar Mill site

After nearly a decade of working to find Aiea Library a larger home, Claire Tamamoto almost lost hope.

"Two weekends ago, I told my husband, 'I think we lost it,'" Tamamoto said.

But at the Oct. 13 Aiea Neighborhood Board meeting, state Rep. Lynn Finnegan (R, Mapunapuna-Foster Village) announced Gov. Linda Lingle had signed a letter of intent to purchase five lots at the former Aiea Sugar Mill site to preserve the land for community use, possibly including a library.

"We're just thankful we're one step closer," said Tamamoto, a community advocate.

Bank of Hawaii has signed the letter of intent and expects to have the transaction closed before the year's end.

"We're delighted to be working with the state to acquire these parcels for future community use," said Stafford Kiguchi, Bank of Hawaii spokesman. "The Aiea community will be able to benefit and be able to realize their vision for this property, one which they've had for the last decade."

The state Legislature had allocated $2.5 million to purchase land to relocate the Aiea Library, but former Gov. Ben Cayetano withheld the funds. The appropriation would have lapsed next June if not spent, Finnegan said.

"What we're doing now is saving the property from being used for industrial purposes," Finnegan said yesterday. "If we didn't act now, it would have been history. Bank of Hawaii could have sold it, and there would have been industrial use there."

The library system cannot afford at this point to relocate, build or cover operational costs for another library, she said.

"I'm hoping eventually we will be able to put a library there," she said. "The governor had some legitimate concerns, and so did the library system."

Aiea residents have clamored for a bigger library, saying the burgeoning community has outgrown the old one built in 1964, with no room for expansion.

Residents are also concerned with students' safety, saying it is dangerous for children to cross busy streets in a business district. The mill site, however, is near several area schools.

The site is zoned for heavy industry. Residents wanted to preserve the land for public use, since homes, schools and public buildings surround the site.

"Sticking industrial in the middle of residential is not a good fit," Tamamoto said. "There could have been an auto body and paint shop or a bar."

The city has already acquired two other portions of the sugar mill site for future use as a community center with child care and senior housing.

But state Librarian Jo Ann Schindler is not convinced the sugar mill site is ideal, and has requested a site assessment to see if the size is appropriate and whether the soil is contaminated.

"We have several different kinds of priorities," Schindler said. "We must meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance and address a very large number of health and safety projects. Those are our top priorities for the system, not individual expansion or relocation of libraries."

City Councilman Gary Okino, an Aiea resident, said although the 2.3-acre site is a bit small, it is much larger than the current site, which measures less than an acre. And parking could be addressed by sharing a lot with the park or building a two-story parking structure, he said.

Community members stepped up efforts to secure the site in June, including soliciting the help of Finnegan, the new GOP legislator, to lobby the Republican governor.

Tamamoto said many have worked on the project, but credits Finnegan with convincing the governor, using the argument that it is important to build a sense of community from the bottom up.

"We look at it as an investment in our community," Tamamoto said.


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