Pavilion plan for community center rubs Molokai wrong

The Mitchell Pauole Community Center in Kaunakakai hosts a myriad community events every year, and most Molokai residents agree that the structure is long overdue for necessary repairs and renovations.

But a proposal to build a covered pavilion over the existing open-space lanai as part of the repair-and-renovation plans has some members of the community concerned.

Representatives from the county Department of Parks and Recreation presented the proposal, which includes adding “a new free-standing roof covering” to the existing lanai, as well as upgrades to the kitchen, restrooms and main hall, to the Molokai Planning Commission on Nov. 13. The department plans on expanding the existing outdoor lanai area by an additional 864 square feet and adding a 2,826-square-foot pavilion overhead, according to the county announcement.

The department also would make improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including installing handicapped-accessible aisles, sidewalks, restrooms, drinking fountains, parking stalls and seating.

While all the commissioners supported facility renovations, they were wary about adding the pavilion, especially since there had been “absolutely no prior discussion” with the community about the project, a commissioner said.

“The kupuna don’t like the pavilion (idea) because that space is used for gatherings, and putting up the pavilion where all the picnic tables are now would cut a lot of seating,” Molokai Planning Commission Chairman John Sprinzel told The Maui News. “It also cuts the viewing as well when we have gatherings. It just seems like a bad idea.”

Sprinzel said he and other commission members were critical of the county department’s lack of dialogue with the Molokai community, which would likely lose access to Kaunakakai’s only community center during the planned construction period from February to the end of the year.

“The parks department has been planning this all year, and they just came to us at the last minute with six weeks to go (in the year) and say if we don’t do (approve) it now, we’ll lose all the money,” Sprinzel said. “They caught everybody off guard with this.

“As Uncle Billy (Buchanan) said, we’re not just the department that OKs these things, we’re supposed to be part of the process,” Sprinzel said. Billy Buchanan also is one of the nine commissioners.

The department said that if the commission doesn’t approve the project before the end of the year, the funds appropriated for the $300,000 improvement project will lapse. Department director of capitol improvements, April Shiotani, told commissioners at the meeting that the expansion portions of the project were lumped together with the ADA and kitchen improvements to save money on construction costs and “is too large a portion of the project to remove at this point,” according to a report in the island’s weekly newspaper, The Molokai Dispatch.

The county department asserts that the lanai extension was “initiated from community input” that generated from frequent use of the outdoor space at community functions.

If commissioners turn down the project, the department will have to wait until the next fiscal year in 18 months to resubmit the project for only the ADA and other approved portions, according to The Molokai Dispatch report.

Delaying all ADA and other renovations because the community opposes the pavilion extension “makes no sense,” said former County Council Member Danny Mateo, who held the Molokai residency seat and had originally discussed the expansion project with other county officials four years ago when he was still in office.

“I never even knew this was moving along until I got phone calls from Molokai (residents) two or three weeks ago,” Mateo said. “From what I gathered, they were worried about at what point the community would have input. For me, I would’ve thought it would happen before it got to the planning commission stage, but it didn’t.”

While Mateo said his idea of creating a pavilion attachment that could add space and help alleviate some of the pressure in the community, which has long “outgrown the center,” gathering input from the community is a critical step of the process.

“The department needs to hear from the community, and if the community can clearly verbalize what it is exactly they’re not happy with, things can still be tweaked at this point,” Mateo said. “What we don’t need are delays.”

Use of the Mitchell Pauole Community Center is critical for hula halau, Zumba classes, the youth center and for other residents, who utilize the space on a weekly basis.

“We’ve actually been asking for these renovations and upgrades for years,” said Molokai Youth Center youth specialist Pono Asano. “If you look at how old that building is and how many people use it, those are long-overdue improvements.”

The youth center, located adjacent to community center, uses the facility’s hall for movie screenings, community dances and graduation parties in the summer. It also is rented out for weddings, birthday parties and other celebrations.

Valerie Dudoit Temahaga, who teaches hula classes for youths, adults and seniors at the community center several times a week, said she supports the needed improvements, but trying to find another space to hold her classes for nearly a year will be difficult.

“The cement inside is all cracked so they do need a lot of improvements,” Temahaga said. “But it’s going to be hard to find places to practice.”

The planning commissioners unanimously voted to defer the issue until their next meeting Dec. 11 to allow the county time to gather testimony on the proposed project.

A community meeting regarding the expansion and ADA improvements has been scheduled for 3 p.m. Dec. 5 at Mitchell Pauole Community Center.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at