Sunday | April 19, 2015
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Lights out: Old Airport hockey rink lights condemned by county after Flossie, future uncertain

While Tropical Storm Flossie ended up being more bark than bite, leaving most of Hawaii Island unscathed, the hockey rink at Old Kona Airport Park felt Flossie’s wrath.

The county has condemned the area until further notice, after two of the eight light poles surrounding the rink were knocked down by strong coastal winds.

“The storm that came through did knock two of the poles down, so our electricians inspected the area and we are going to have to take them all down before we can open up the area again,” said county Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Bob Fitzgerald.

Once the lights are removed, the rink will reopen to the public during the day. However, with no lights, the rink will no longer be available for use after dark.

Before the rink was built in 1998, West Hawaii Hockey functioned out of the parking lot north of the Kona Community Aquatic Center. Lines painted on the asphalt are evidence of the improvised rink used at that time.

With the backing of donations from local business and community members, the rink was erected. Pepsi Co. equipped the rink with boards, glass and a scoreboard, making the facility the first of its kind in Hawaii.

West Hawaii Hockey uses the rink for youth and adult leagues, and two roller derby teams call the rink their year-round home. Also, a family skate night is held monthly at the rink. Proceeds are used to pay part of the facility’s electric bill.

“Right now, we are homeless,” said Mele Ke, member of the Kona Outlaw Roller Girls team. “We are trying to figure out what we are going to do and how much it will cost to get it fixed. We saw it all blocked off and we didn’t know what to do and felt helpless. The hockey rink has been like a second home for a lot of us. Once we found out the rink was closed, we were all devastated.”

Tim Rude, president of West Hawaii Hockey, estimates that the lights cost about $10,000 when they were installed more than a decade ago. For a new set of lights, or to bring the current ones up to code, it would likely cost even more.

“The league built the lights off funds they generated from fundraising, but right now we do not have the resources to build something of that scale,” Rude said.

Fitzgerald said the county wants to work with groups that use the rink to put in a state-of-the-art lighting system, better able to withstand harsh conditions, to mitigate the risk of falling poles and possible injury.

“We have arranged cleanups and gone down to the rink to tidy up, but this is completely different,” Ke said. “We are really hoping the community will come together and take action to get the rink repairs done and open again.”

West Hawaii Hockey and the roller derby teams will be around town raising funds for the new lights in the coming weeks, but the groups are also looking for donations from the community.

West Hawaii Hockey is a 501(c)(3) organization, making all donations tax deductible. Checks can be made out to West Hawaii Hockey and mailed to 74-5042 Hanahanai Loop, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740.