Keep facility open and running properly
As someone who has been using the Kona Community Aquatic Center’s swimming pool since 2001, it concerns me greatly to watch the steady deterioration of the facility. Then it was still in great condition, and open all but three days of the year. Today it is being held together with Band-Aids and chewing gum, and doesn’t even observe “holiday hours” on holidays, but instead closes down completely when most needed. It even closes for 90 minutes in the middle of the day on weekends, the best time for families to use the pool.
The county’s seeming indifference to basic preventive maintenance is going to be costly. An identical pool facility in Pahoa, just a few years older, is facing complete closure, with “pay me later” costs of $1.55 million to get it operational again, and six months out of service. Is this what is in store for the Kona pool? Can we really afford to defer maintenance until it costs more to repair a facility than to build a new one?
Sadly, all one needs to do is walk around the pool and you’ll see it’s no longer “ready for prime time.” The concrete deck is on the verge of crumbling, all that is left of the diving boards are rusting stanchions, and the gratings around the pool and the bulkheads are deteriorating and rapidly approaching being dangerous. The filtration system — having been fixed on the cheap just a few months ago — apparently needs significant repairs once again.
In addition to paying more for putting off needed maintenance, consider also how valuable an asset the pool can be when it is kept up properly and used as a marketing tool. Each time it hosts a major statewide competition it brings a half million dollars into the community for hotel accommodations, restaurant meals and other visitor spending, not to mention the direct revenue to the pool for hosting the event and the tax dollars generated for the county. Five hundred swimmers can come to these events, along with family members, but they won’t come if we can’t keep the facility open and running properly. And since this is the only county pool that is qualified to host sanctioned swimming competitions, those dollars will go to other islands.
Mainland universities used to bring their swim teams here to train, bringing revenue and employment to the Kona community, but the county began turning them away. They go to Oahu now. Triathletes from Hawaii and around the world also come to train, but they are lucky if the pool is open since those who decide when to close it for repairs seem not to care if a major event is coming up.
So here we have by far the most popular pool in the county, and maybe the entire state, and a county government that doesn’t realize its value. Is there anyone in all of county government who will say “the buck stops here” and take responsibility for the Kona Community Aquatic Center? Will it, too, have to be shut down for months, and repaired at great expense, or will the county start maintaining it properly so it can stay in good repair and stay accessible to taxpaying citizens and visitors?
As I write this I have just returned from swimming. The water was cloudy and almost too hot for a workout, but the pool’s inexpensive spray cooling equipment is rarely used, even though it may cost less to cool the pool than to use the extra chlorine the higher temperature requires to keep the pool safe. Conversely, there are heat pumps that could improve the water temperature in the winter, but they are essentially out of commission. And if you’ve ever looked at the roofs around the pool deck and wondered why the pool is using propane instead of cost-effective solar panels, you are not alone.
The Kona Community Aquatics Center can and should be a magnet for recreational and economic activity in Kona, instead of fading in the sun as it is today. Do we pay now with regular investments in maintaining and improving the pool, or pay later with grand but expensive renovations that close the pool for months? As a swimmer and a taxpayer, I urge the county to be more proactive in fulfilling its management responsibilities, and to allow this valuable community asset to meet its full potential.