City thinks of ditching
City Council Budget Committee members yesterday discussed getting rid of the collapsing Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium rather than spending $6.1 million to shore it up.
Committee members asked questions and sought information on alternatives such as giving the Natatorium back to the state, filling in the pool, how to alter a historically recognized site and demolishing most of the structure, leaving portions as a memorial.
But city officials said there is an immediate health and safety concern and if the repairs are delayed, the city could find itself beset with lawsuits.
"Do we want to take the risk and wait? I guess that's the question. From my point of view, I'd rather not take the risk," said Tim Steinberger, director of the Department of Design and Construction. "We're complaining about $6.1 million, but how do you put a price on a life if somebody happens to be injured or killed because they fall into this area."
The Natatorium is a memorial to World War I veterans that opened in 1929 and was transferred to the city from the state through an executive order.
In May, the city closed the restrooms at the Natatorium after a section on the pool deck collapsed, leaving a crater at the edge of the bleachers on the mauka wall.
Steinberger said yesterday that the collapse "certainly gave us a wake-up call that there was something catastrophic about to happen."
The city has since received reports from two firms that the entire structure is at risk of collapsing and that work should be done to shore up the pool deck.
Steinberger said what's being proposed to remedy the problem will help to make the facility structurally sound.
Councilman Charles Djou, whose district includes the Waikiki historic site, said his colleagues are skeptical of the administration's plans because there is no guarantee that the proposed repair is a long-term solution. "The ($6.1 million) spending won't be the end of it," Djou said.
A circuit judge in 1999 allowed the city to continue with part of an $11 million restoration that included renovating the facility's restrooms but not restoring the saltwater pool until the city abides by state rules for saltwater swimming pools, a requirement that's stalled the project.
Members of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which sued to stop restoration, told the committee it will go to court once again to stop the city from proceeding with the repairs.
"There will be a significant battle," attorney Jim Bickerton said. "We have not seen any proof that it is necessary for public health and safety. Because as the Council points out, you can simply close it off which it has been anyway."
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