Community to initiate effort to rebuild play area in Haiku

Nine years ago, the community-built Kalakupua Playground opened, attracting families from all over the island to come play and celebrate the volunteer work of businesses, groups and individuals on the island and beyond who toiled through rain and mud to make the dream a reality.

The 20,000-square-foot playground at 4th Marine Division Park in Haiku is made up of wood-base structures including a castle tower, a treehouse, mazes and swings. The playground also includes children’s artwork.

It was a source of pride in Haiku.

But in October, Kalakupua was closed by the county because of safety reasons, leaving families and children “sad” and without a neighborhood place to play in Upcountry.

The Parks Department last year estimated that it would cost $600,000 to demolish and build a new playground that complies with national requirements.

But in December, County Council Member Mike White, along with county parks personnel and Haiku parent and Haiku School Parent-Community Networking Coordinator Jennifer Oberg and others, made a site visit to the area and visually estimated that not all the equipment needed to be replaced.

A recent formal “structural adequacy report” completed by the county’s Department of Parks & Recreation showed problems with joists and ramps and a need to replace the surfacing below the equipment.

Parks Director Glenn Correa said in a email that the costs for the structural analysis, labor, design, permitting and for the new surfacing total around $375,000.

He added that funding would have to be allocated in the upcoming fiscal 2014 budget, which has to be approved by the County Council.

Oberg said that the community is “really sad” about the closure and now parents have to drive somewhere else to take their children to play.

“There was a lot of personal attachment to the playground and the community,” she said.

Many children had their names etched on fence posts as part of a fundraiser for the playground.

Original artwork done by children is also featured at the playground, Oberg added.

“It’s a big emotional to-do.”

Oberg started a “Save Kalakupua Playground” Facebook page for people interested in volunteering and donating to the playground repair effort.

The Haiku Community Association has agreed to be the nonprofit community group to receive and hold the funds for the community effort, Oberg said.

She and White hope to have a public-private partnership with the community and the county to rebuild the playground.

Oberg hopes she can put together a team of volunteers and have more discussions with the county and White so she’ll have information to disseminate at the Haiku Ho’olaule’a & Flower Festival, which begins April 20.

It took more than two years to do the groundwork for the playground, said Karen Cooper, one of two general project coordinators of the original playground. The other coordinator was River Sussman.

In 2004, the Kalakupua Playground (Kalakupua means “magical” in Hawaiian) was scheduled to be a six-day “barn-raising” project in the spring, but a lack of volunteers delayed completion of the project as well as additional work to erect a fence around the playground. The playground had a soft opening that July and had a formal dedication celebration in September 2004. Organizers said that the playground cost around $200,000.

The volunteer committee had consulted with Leathers and Associates, which specializes in community-built playgrounds, and gathered input from community members, especially children, regarding what should be featured at the park.

Cooper said that the nonprofit Friends of the Playground Ohana spent five years cleaning and maintaining the park before disbanding and turning it over to another organization.

Cooper called the current park closure sad. But she said that her life, as well as the lives of those from the old group, has changed and they no longer have the time to put into another project.

But Cooper said that she wouldn’t mind volunteering if needed.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at