Offer will ensure gym available to Maui community

After leasing the Kula Gym for more than 30 years, Maui County now has an opportunity to purchase and preserve the facility that has, over the years, been host to community gatherings, youth sports leagues and pickup basketball games.

Officials with the Maui Federal Credit Union, which owns the facility also known as Waiakoa gym, confirmed Tuesday that the financial institution has offered to sell the gym to the county.

“Recognizing that the gym is used extensively by the County of Maui Parks and Recreation sports programs for youth and adult leagues, clubs, groups, organizations, schools and individuals benefiting not only the Kula community but the residents of Maui, we have offered to sell the gym to the county,” Clayton Fuchigami, the credit union’s president and chief executive officer, said in an email.

“This will ensure the gym remains available to the people of Maui in perpetuity,” he said.

Maui Federal Credit Union acquired the gym when it merged with the Kula Community Federal Credit Union earlier this year, Fuchigami said.

“In evaluating this real property, we concluded that we are unable to operate a gym viably as a credit union facility,” he said.

Built in the late 1930s, the gym began largely as a community-based effort coordinated by Joaquin Vincent, a longtime teacher and principal at Kealahou School, according to a plaque posted in the hallway leading to the gym.

“Going door to door, (Vincent) solicited funds from Upcountry residents, encouraging shopkeepers and parents to donate money to build a gym where youth could develop athletic skills,” the plaque reads.

Violet Harris donated the land in 1936, and Kula residents broke ground on the project just a year later. The gym formally opened in 1939, used not only for sports play but also for community meetings and other events. Maui County began leasing the gym in 1970.

The county has said it is interested in purchasing the gym, though the asking price and other details of such a deal have not yet been disclosed.

“We are currently having an appraisal done on the property and plan on requesting the funding in the fiscal year 2016 proposed budget when we submit it to the (County) Council in March,” Budget Director Sandy Baz said.

Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa, who holds the council’s Upcountry residency seat, said she is “very supportive” of the county’s consideration to buy the gym.

“There’s a lot of sentimental value in that building. It’s been there for many many years. It’s used by a lot of folks for recreation, for youth programs, a meeting hall for church. . . . It’s a very busy building,” Baisa said.

She added that the gym’s location, near the center of Kula town, could pose new challenges if the building were converted into some other sort of development.

“We want to be careful what happens to that property because it’s right in the middle of town. We don’t want to see increased traffic. This use is already here, so it can just continue and not have a big effect on that area,” she said.

Bill Worcester, who has lived and operated his glass-blowing business next to the gym on Lower Kula Road for decades, said that the facility is “a great resource for the community.”

“It is used pretty much daily by all ages. The schools use it in this area. Hula classes have been held there, pickup basketball games, indoor soccer,” Worcester said. “People from the community would be very disappointed if the county didn’t buy it.”

The county has been “a good neighbor” and responsible stewards of the area so far, Worcester said. He added that he remembers, years back, “rough characters” and “druggies” would hang out near the gym entrance late into the night but the county “clamped down on it and made sure (the gym) was closed by 10 at night.”

If the county doesn’t buy the gym and it is instead sold to a private entity, it’s likely that the gym will be torn down and replaced with “a restaurant or bed-and-breakfast” type of enterprise, Worcester said. While that might mean a boost in his company’s glass art sales, “I’d rather not see that happen because it’s such a community asset,” he said.

Basketball players from all over the island travel Upcountry five nights out of the week to play pickup games at the Kula Gym.

“It’s one of the only gyms on Maui that is consistently open (late). . . . A lot of other places are closed weeknights,” said Wailuku resident Kim Kasahara, who plays basketball at the gym on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

The gym’s single full court is “usually packed” with players, about 20 to 35 people each night, he said. Players’ ages range from teenage to seniors.

Kasahara said he hopes that more county gyms are kept open later in the evening because many players have to work during regular business hours when the gyms are open. The Kula Gym closes at 10 p.m.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.