Puna projects get funding


Funds for plans for two important Puna community projects were approved by legislators last week in the state budget.

The Puna District Regional Library will get $800,000, while the Puna Community Medical Center was approved to receive $750,000. Both sums are to cover feasibility studies, planning and design components for the new buildings.

In a Facebook posting, state Sen. Russell Ruderman explained that the library was one of his top capital improvement priorities for the Legislative Session.

“Libraries are a crucial link to literacy and learning, which preserve the diverse cultural heritage here in Hawaii. We recognize the vital role that libraries play as cornerstones in our community, and this appropriation … will establish a welcomed community resource for the Puna District and neighboring areas.

“These services are especially critical for rural and economically challenged areas such as Puna, and will provide pathways to improve educational and economic status. The Puna District Regional Library will be a modern facility that goes way beyond books. It will include digital, A/V, e-book, and computer resources that will directly contribute to the health and wellbeing of children, teens, seniors, while serving the community as a whole.”

Currently, the Pahoa library serves as both the school library for Pahoa High and Intermediate and Pahoa Elementary, as well as the community’s public library.

According to a bill requesting funding for a new library, which was sponsored by Ruderman, “the Puna district is growing at a rapid rate and has outgrown the existing ‘shared’ library system currently being used.”

“A new regional library is envisioned to serve as a visible statement about the value of reading, education, and lifelong learning, and to provide a key civic space that residents use throughout their lifetime.”

Meanwhile, the funds to kick off planning for the Puna Community Medical Center are also considered to be addressing the rapid growth of the Puna area.

The facility would offer a “full service emergency room to serve the Puna District. Currently, the closest emergency room facilities are located in Hilo,” reads a posting on Ruderman’s Facebook page.

“I greatly appreciate that the development of this much needed facility in Puna can now move forward with this CIP funding,” he wrote. “As the population of Puna continues to climb, the demand for emergency services has also increased significantly. The funding for a new emergency room and related services will provide the Puna District and surrounding areas with a facility that can effectively address the needs of our residents and will save lives by significantly reducing travel time to an ER.”

Rene Siracusa, who serves as president of the Puna Community Medical Center, said Thursday she was delighted to be able to begin work on a new facility.

“Yay! And you can quote me on that,” she said. “We’re totally stoked, because this means we’ll be able to start moving ahead now. And this is something that’s 20 years overdue. The faster we can move ahead, the more catching up we can do.”

Siracusa explained that the Big Island, and the Puna District in particular, are often overlooked when it comes to funding for projects, despite Puna having the fastest growing population in the state and being recognized by the federal government as a medically underserved region.

“We have a right as human beings to have access to medical care. And the way the population is growing and the way traffic is on Highway 130 and Highway 11, it takes a long time for ambulances to pick up a patient and take them to the Hilo ER,” she said.

The project will remain on hold until the state can finalize a lease of a 5-acre plot of land off of Highway 130, near the water department facility. Organizers expect that to happen by July.

“Then, we can put out an RFP (request for proposals) for architectural plans and an engineering study. We expect those to take a couple of months. … If we’re lucky, we could start breaking ground before the end of the year,” Siracusa said.