Wednesday | July 01, 2015
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The Heat is On

Showers will be warmer thanks to 19 new photovoltaic panels installed this week on the Kona Community Aquatic Center’s roof. The addition is the result of a partnership between an all-volunteer charitable organization and Hawaii County.

Friends of Kona Community Aquatic Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity striving to provide an inviting pool environment for pool users. Bringing solar hot water to the center’s shower areas was its first project, said Janice Beeson, the charity’s president.

For years, particularly during the winter months, patrons have complained about the chilly temperatures in the pool and sporadic hot water in the showers. The facility’s heating system is old, outdated and parts for repair or upgrades are often unavailable. Given the reality of the county’s budget constraints, the Friends of Kona Community Aquatic Center decided to spearhead an effort to heat things up.

Throughout the entire process, Beeson said the county, particularly Department of Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Bob Fitzgerald, was always supportive and helpful. Fitzgerald echoed the appreciation, saying “It has been a joy partnering with such outstanding residents who care deeply about their community and are willing to help in any way possible.”

It took roughly a year and a half to raise $53,166.32, the cost of the solar water shower system. A $35,000 grant, received last year from the county, helped jumpstart the fundraising process. The remaining funds came from the Taj Foundation, pool patrons and other residents, Beeson said. The project cost was originally estimated to be $62,000, she added.

The system was installed by Poncho’s Solar Service, which has been installing solar water heating systems in Hawaii since 1979. The company’s owner, Poncho Safranca, kept the overhead low and contributed materials for free to this project, said solar consultant Thomas Neal Takach.

The panels are preheating water in the center’s existing storage tanks, which are capable of holding 1,220 gallons. Now, the propane water heater will only have to be used as a backup. More than 95 percent of the water used for the showers is being heated by the sun, Takach said.

Work by the eight Poncho’s Solar Service employees began on Monday and the system was fully functioning Thursday. Walter’s Electric did the electrical installation. Architect John Hetherington and mechanical engineer Mark Morrison also contributed, Takach said.

Derek Lee, a senior lifeguard, expressed gratitude for the Friends of Kona Community Aquatic Center board of directors, which includes Beeson, Carol Elliott, Ann Finney and Anita Labertew. He called them “a godsend.”

Prior to becoming a charity, Lee said the group donated lifeguard stands, as well as swim and safety equipment. He feels lucky to work with the group of caring residents, who are willing to help maintain, enhance and improve the facility. They never scoff at his lofty wish list, which includes renovating the restrooms, as well as getting 14 new swim lanes. The swim lanes, costing $900 each, are a high priority because they’re needed for the USA Swimming championship in December. The swim lanes are supposed to be replaced every three years. The plastic is brittle and cables have snapped.

Lee said this solar water shower project brings greater awareness about the efforts of the county and the Friends of Kona Community Aquatic Center to bring public facilities up to par. He added the showers are used by hundreds of people who frequent the pool, Kekuaokalani gym and the park complex. He estimated the system, anticipated to pay for itself in three years, will save the county about $12,903 annually.

As for heating the pool with solar, approximately 76 panels would be needed to just to make the temperature 3 degrees warmer and the cost of such a system is approximately $250,000. Friends of Kona Community Aquatic Center is still looking for strategies to make this possible. The charity is also looking for volunteers and businesses to help with fundraising, grant writing and providing expertise, Beeson said.

To get involved, donate or for more information, call 325-7865, email jdbeeson@hawaii.rr.com or write to Friends of Kona Community Aquatic Center, P.O. Box 1693, Kailua-Kona, HI 96745. Donations may also be dropped off at the lifeguard office from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.