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Restoration planned for Mokuaikaua Church in Kailua-Kona

Updated: 
June 25, 2014 - 2:43pm

Preserving history comes with a price tag.

Congregation leaders at Mokuaikaua Church laid out plans Tuesday for the estimated $3 million in repairs they say the state’s oldest Christian church will need if it is to endure as a landmark of Kailua Village.

The church’s announcement of a new fundraising campaign follows the recent designation of the structure as one of the 11 most endangered sites on the registers of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“The idea is to have a church here for the next generation,” said lead pastor David de Carvalho.

Mokuaikaua has some weighty tasks ahead. The massive roof, built on ohia beams, must be raised so that the walls can be shored up and reinforced with steel before interior and exterior cracks are filled. Some of the crossbeams have rot and termite damage and must be replaced.

The steeple has rot damage. The entire roof must be reinforced with a diaphragm to make it a single rigid unit and tie it to the foundation, said Dave Ross, a civil engineer and vice chairman on the church’s board of trustees.

The building was damaged in the 2006 earthquake, and the 2011 tsunami sent water and debris to the edge of the church grounds, highlighting how vulnerable the structure is to natural disasters, de Carvalho said.

A team is convening to plan the restoration effort while waiting to hear back on a $150,000 grant request to the Freeman Foundation. The exact cost and scope of work are yet to be determined.

The designation of the church as endangered shines light on how critical the situation is, and gives a diving-off point to seek grants and other funds, de Carvalho said. Leaders at Mokuaikaua hope to undertake restoration in two phases, with a third phase being an expansion of a separate building used for offices and Bible study. But the main focus is the renovations, de Carvalho said.

To start: $250,000 in repairs to the church’s steeple.

“The steeple only looks good from the outside,” de Carvalho said. “Inside it is really rotten and in need of repairs.”

The restoration team hasn’t yet decided how far they should delve into the steeple repairs. Wind-driven rain tends to leak through the louvers of the structure and into the interior of the church.

“We’re hoping for community response,” de Carvalho said. “We are hoping people will look at our website. The idea is to raise the $250,000 so we can rebuild the steeple and do termite treatment.”

De Carvalho led a tour of Mokuaikaua, which was founded by the Pioneer Company of American Missionaries in 1820. The pastor pointed to long cracks in the interior walls and Ross gave about 80 invited guests and congregation members an overview of the work ahead. Church leaders would like to have the building shored up by 2020.

Church members said the symbolism of Mokuaikaua extends far beyond the range of its visual impact.

“It is very much a part of the roots and foundation of the whole story of Christianity in Hawaii,” said Roxanne Olson, who has attended services there since third grade.

Mokuaikaua was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has stated that the church needs immediate attention if it is to be saved.

“This is an icon for the community. This is a piece of history of this state,” said de Carvalho. “We don’t need to be on that list. We want to be off that list.”

For more information visit mokuaikaua.org.