KAUNAKAKAI - The Molokai Planning Commission unanimously approved on Wednesday plans to build a pavilion over the existing lanai at Mitchell Pauole Center, as well as other facility renovations.
The proposal was originally brought before the commission two weeks ago, but commissioners deferred the matter, saying the county Department of Parks and Recreation needed to first get feedback from the community before erecting the overhead structure. Community members expressed concern at the Nov. 13 meeting that the 72-by-40-foot freestanding lanai, held up by pillars, would limit visibility and reduce seating for outdoor events.
Other renovations would include expanding the existing lanai area by an additional 864 square feet, as well as making repairs and upgrades to the kitchen, restrooms and main hall. The department also would make improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including installing disabled-accessible aisles, sidewalks, restrooms, drinking fountains, parking stalls and seating.
Community concerns about the pavilion were quelled after the department complied with the commission's wishes and hosted a community meeting Thursday, commissioners said.
"People realized this is probably a good thing for the community," Commissioner Janice Kalanihuia said. "It seemed that people were in fact for the project."
County planning officials explained to the community that the improvements were designed to add much-needed space to the overused facility and presented renderings of what the area may look like when completed, according to commissioners who attended the meeting.
"Currently, 90 percent of the permitted activities at the center are utilizing this outdoor area with tables, chair, et cetera to hold the overflow and additional capacity of the events and activities. Pop-up tents are erected to provide shade and some protection from the elements for the participants," Deputy Parks Director Brianne Savage said in a statement. "The proposed lanai . . . would provide shade and event space for the overwhelming majority of the permitted events at the facility that need an additional covered area to protect participants from the sun, wind and rain."
Building an overhead lanai would save event organizers from having to erect tents for every event, said Maui County Council Member Stacy Crivello, who holds the Molokai residency seat and attended Wednesday's meeting.
"I humbly ask the commission not to defer this or else we'll just have (only) what we have today," Crivello said in testimony.
At the earlier meeting, planners reported that funds for the estimated nearly $1 million improvement project would lapse if the planning commission did not approve the special management area minor permit before Dec. 31. However, county officials clarified that only the $90,000 funding for ADA improvements would lapse at the end of the year; an additional $1 million in capital improvement project funds appropriated for the project would not lapse until Dec. 31, 2014.
Molokai kupuna Judy Caparida, who originally contested the overhead pavilion when it was first heard by the commission, attended the community meeting Thursday and had changed her mind about the project by Wednesday.
"It's going to be nice, the set-up looked really beautiful from the pictures they had set up," Caparida said in testimony. "The only thing I feel bad about is before anything comes to you guys (planning commission), the community needs to have input . . . They supposed to seek out our community first to find out what are the needs."
Mitchell Pauole Center is Kaunakakai's only community center, and is host to nearly all the island's major festivals, including Ka Molokai Makahiki, Festivals of Aloha and Ka Hula Piko. In addition, the community center is heavily used for graduation parties, birthday celebrations, community meetings and recreation classes.
The improvement project would close Mitchell Pauole Center from February through the end of next year, though planners hope to finish construction within six months.
When asked where residents are expected to host their activities, planning officials declined to comment, but Crivello was confident the community would adapt.
"Any improvement is good for Molokai. You can't go wrong," Crivello said after the meeting. "We'll make do . . . I born and raised in this community. We'll find means."
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.