City & County of Honolulu

Natatorium’s fate likely
rests with next Council

Okino and Kobayashi express
reservations about any pool work

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

City Council members reacted cautiously to news that the city will likely be required to install a mechanical pump filter if it restores the pool at the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.

"This is a one-of-a-kind facility that should be preserved if the costs are not prohibitive," said Councilman John Henry Felix, one of the staunchest supporters of a full restoration of the Natatorium.

The City Council approved $11 million for the restoration in 1998. The facade, bleachers and restrooms were restored in 2000 for about $4.4 million.

But Mayor Jeremy Harris stopped work on the pool after a circuit judge said the facility constituted a saltwater venue that required an operating permit from the state Health Department.

Health Department officials told the Star-Bulletin this week that the proposed rules governing saltwater pool permits, which still need Gov. Ben Cayetano's approval, would require a pump and tile lining on the sides and bottom of the pool.

The changes to the city's original plan are significant enough to force the administration to return to the Council for additional approvals. The original plan called for the pool to be filtered naturally and that the bottom consist of natural sand.

The Harris administration said it has yet to analyze the final draft of the Health Department rules and could not comment.

The ultimate decision on the Natatorium's future will likely fall to the next City Council.

Two of the three people on the nine-member Council who are eligible for re-election this fall said they have serious reservations about giving future approvals or funding for the project.

Councilman Gary Okino said he is inclined not to support restoration of the pool.

"At this point I don't see any reason why we should build the pool," he said. "We can save the memorial by saving the facade."

Okino, however, said he will listen to what proponents have to say.

Council Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said she and her colleagues will need to consider not only the cost of the pump and lining, but also the cost of maintaining such equipment.

"Over the years you have to keep it up," said Kobayashi, who, like Okino, is eligible for re-election, "and dealing with salt water really corrodes."

Councilman Steve Holmes, a longtime opponent to pool restoration who is not eligible for another term, agreed. "The maintenance costs will eat you alive."

The third Council member eligible for re-election, Romy Cachola, could not be reached for comment.

City & County of Honolulu

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