Natatorium supporters approve plan for overhaul

Supporters of the Natatorium applauded the city’s latest plan for restoring the deteriorating Waikiki memorial: a $25.6 million rebuild that would keep the historic structure and pool mostly intact.

The plan for the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium was detailed in a draft environmental statement released Thursday.

“This is easily the best news that we’ve had in about two decades, and it’s so wonderful to be coming at a time when we are celebrating the sacrifices of Hawaii’s military and civilians during WWI,” said Donna L. Ching, vice president of the Friends of the Natatorium.

The Natatorium opened in 1927 as a “living war memorial” to those who gave their lives in World War I. Sunday is Veterans Day and marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

The city is proposing to demolish some of the less visible submerged structures at the Natatorium, including the pool’s makai and Ewa sea walls. The pool deck would be reconstructed on support piles and surround the pool at approximately 4 feet above the water’s surface at low tide and 3 feet at high tide.

Ching likes the perimeter deck plan, which is the preferred option in the city draft EIS, because she feels that it retains most of the Natatorium’s physical and historic integrity.

Since the plan would allow for the free flow of water between the ocean and the pool, it doesn’t need to meet state swimming pool requirements.

The plan proposes improvements to the Diamond Head groin and sea wall to keep nearby Sans Souci Beach as is. It rehabilitates the Natatorium’s bleachers, arc and other existing elements.

The perimeter deck plan was floated as an alternative to a 2013 solution proposed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Mayor Kirk Caldwell to demolish the pool and bleachers and develop a beach at the site. While that plan was supported by the Kaimana Beach Coalition, it proved unpopular with preservationists.

“We commend Mayor Kirk Caldwell for looking at the evidence carefully and coming to the right conclusion about preservation,” Ching said.

The city added the perimeter deck plan to its draft EIS process in 2017. It was vetted along with the 2013 beach alternative, another plan to fully rehabilitate the Natatorium with its closed-system pool, and a proposal to take no action.

“We listened to everyone and added additional alternatives to avoid a lawsuit,” Caldwell said. “I’ll go with the proposed action, but the beach guys may be upset and the preservationists may be upset. If I had my own way, I’d make a beach. But I’m respecting the process.”

Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation, said she’s still reviewing details in the draft EIS, but so far, she likes what she sees.

“It appears to be a wonderful solution with an elegant balance between preservation and practicality,” Faulkner said.

Faulkner said the proposed action “retains the major character of this very important war memorial” and “opens up public access to a part of Waikiki that has been closed off for 40 years.”

The Natatorium was closed in 1979 due to disrepair.

Faulkner said the city’s eventual arrival at a proposed action shows that the community can overcome polarizing issues “when stakeholders meet in good faith, explore solutions and try to solve a problem.”

“The timing is absolutely beautiful. This comes just days before our WWI centennial celebration when the entire world is remembering the sacrifices that gave us a way forward where we can live in peace,” she said.

Caldwell said selection of the perimeter deck plan was partly about money and partly about reaching compromise on a very controversial decision. Cost for the perimeter deck plan has been estimated at about $25.6 million, while estimates put the beach plan at $28.8 million and full restoration at $42.7 million. Not acting was expected to cost up to $1.4 million for emergency repairs.

The completion of the draft EIS means that after many starts and stops the city is finally on its way to making a decision next year that will determine the future of the crumbling Natatorium.

Caldwell said the city will take comments on the draft EIS through Dec. 24. After comments are reviewed, Caldwell said it would take an estimated six to nine months to complete a final EIS.

Once a final EIS is accepted, hopefully around September, Caldwell said that he plans to move forward quickly. He hopes the process doesn’t get delayed by lawsuits, which have been threatened in the past and are “disrespectful to the veterans that we’ll be honoring Sunday.”

“I don’t think we’ll be tearing down anything while I’m mayor, but we’ll be well on our way to getting the permits so that whoever comes in can proceed with the building of it. We’ll also be putting money in our budget for demolition,” Caldwell said. “I’ll keep pushing.”

Caldwell’s term as mayor ends in 2020.

Weigh in on Natatorium

>> Review the draft EIS at 808ne.ws/Nata toriumreview.

>> Send comments by Dec. 24 to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, c/o Department of Design and Construction, 650 S. King St., 11th Floor, Honolulu, HI 96813; or email WWMCNatato rium@aecom.com.

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