Parks department unveils options for county pools
Repairs, more lifeguards, new relocated pools are envisioned
The county Parks and Recreation Department unveiled for the first time its plan to repair, update and possibly relocate its eight swimming pools — all at a cost that could rise to $30 million.
The department presented its plan to residents and swim clubs last week. The plan calls for $8.4 million in “needed repairs and updates” to keep pools operational for the next 10 to 15 years. An audit of each aquatic facility conducted in June 2017 identified substandard conditions, including pool structure and finishes; mechanical and chemical systems; filtration systems; and heating systems.
“Am I surprised by the cost? Not really, with the amount of pools we have and the age and upkeep,” Parks Director Ka’ala Buenconsejo said Friday. “A regular household pool is a huge upkeep cost so imagine a public pool 10 times the size. You’re going to be spending millions of dollars.”
The report prepared by consultant Counsilman-Hunsaker found Maui County has more pools per capita than anywhere else in the country. The county also has some of the oldest pools in the state, with an average age of 35 years.
The report provided three options to the county with budgets of $11 million, $14.6 million and $28.5 million. Each option builds upon the previous one, but residents and Maui County Council members can pick and choose which parts of each option they want.
The first option starts with the $8.4 million in repairs and $1.8 million toward solar, shade and gray water systems. It also increases labor costs to $2.6 million annually by adding six lifeguards per shift and an increase in salaries by a dollar an hour, which amounts to about $500,000.
The second option includes everything from the first with an additional $3.7 million toward facility modifications. Those include floatables at the Kokua Pool in Kahului and Cooke Memorial Pool on Molokai as well as spraygrounds, or other water features, at the Kihei and Lahaina aquatic centers.
A sprayground and repaired bulkhead at Upcountry Pool for $1.3 million also would be included.
The third option retains improvements from the first two options and transforms the Coach Soichi Sakamoto Pool in Wailuku into a competition venue for $6.1 million. It also calls for decommissioning the Kokua and Coach Spencer Shiraishi Memorial (in Kahului) pools, possibly rebuilding them at new locations, along with converting Upcountry’s 50-meter pool into two pools.
The final option also calls for a $500,000 sprayground at Wells Park in Wailuku and spray features and slides on Molokai.
Maui Swim Club coach Kiki Matsumoto opposed the relocation of Shiraishi pool, which is the county’s oldest pool and has served as the team’s practice facility since it opened in 1958. She was wary of the county’s high-cost plans and how they would accommodate her club of 100 young athletes.
“We’ve been training there for 60 years,” Matsumoto said Friday. “The pool was built by the community and coach Shiraishi was instrumental in getting it. For the most part, he did it not just to benefit the community but also house his swim team.”
Matsumoto said the county has done an “OK” job maintaining the old Kahului pool and appreciated plans to extend the pool’s life another decade. However, she wondered how the Parks and Recreation Department would continue to get funds to maintain new facilities. And, she pointed out the public has not been told where they would be relocated.
“My concern is that you build all these fancy new facilities, but how long is it going to be when they’re in disrepair and you have an even bigger problem than you had before,” she said. “The county needs to learn how to take care of what they have before branching out to other things.”
Matsumoto said the club operates entirely on volunteers and serves families with moderate to very low incomes. She said every summer for the past 40 years, the club takes in a hundred swimmers and teaches them how to swim for free.
“We’re completely and totally an outreach club,” she said.
Buenconsejo said he understands the concerns of the club and reiterated that none of the options has been chosen. He said the department is only coming up with options suggested by residents and swimmers at previous community meetings for the County Council to review.
“There’s always going to be resistance for anything we do, but what is the bigger picture for the entire community?” he asked. “Do you want to spend money on a pool that’s 50 years old or make a complex more suitable to hold multiple clubs — a super pool complex?”
Staffing multiple smaller pools is unquestionably harder than staffing one large one, Buenconsejo said. Finding enough lifeguards for pools has become a national issue, and Central Maui has four pools within a 5-mile radius.
“Weekly, we have to shut down pools, sometimes the entire day,” he said. “The community and classes suffer because we have to shut down for the public, but the swim clubs don’t feel that effect.”
Buenconsejo said he spoke to previous county administration officials who maintained the intent of building new pools in Central Maui was to replace and shut down older ones. He told residents that if any pools were to shut down, they would be replaced in full, either by the amount of swimming lanes or a new location prior to closure. The names of the pools also would be carried over to wherever they are relocated.
Longtime swim coach Malcolm Cooper said Thursday that all the swim clubs and teams met with the department Wednesday to review the report. The groups were somewhere between the second and third options, but they have concerns about closing Kokua and Shiraishi pools, he said.
Cooper said he believes repairing the Shiraishi pool may end up costing more than rebuilding it. The audit calls for $1.2 million in repairs to the pool.
He added that the future of the Kokua Pool appears to be in jeopardy because the county is in talks with Hale Makua Health Services, which is looking at acquiring the Kahului Community Center Park for a new senior housing complex.
Buenconsejo confirmed the potential plan, saying the pool would be absorbed by Hale Makua and made shallower for aerobic exercise.
Cooper said he believes the $6.1 million renovation of the Sakamoto pool could take care of the two pools shutting down and is similar to a proposal he made back in 2007 when he worked for the county. He said the larger facility could be rented out to college teams during the winter when swimmers are traveling and training.
“You could have three or four college teams here and have a swim meet,” he said. “It could actually be used to offset some of the costs to operating the pools. It’s something we haven’t taken advantage of in the past.”
Cooper said he had a good impression of consultant Counsilman-Hunsaker, which takes part of its name from Hall of Fame swimming coach James Counsilman. The coach has a connection to Maui because he visited Hawaii to learn from Sakamoto about stroke technique and other secrets.
“It would be great if we got everything, but it’s a lot of money and we recognize that,” Cooper said. “But it’s not just for swim teams. We want to do it for everyone else. Swimming is the cheapest health care you can get.”
The consultants have been working on the report for about a year, collecting ideas via workshops and open houses. They plan to have a final report in the next 30 to 45 days.
Public comments still may be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.