Wave of elderly could spur big changes at Kahului park

Hale Makua working with county on lease of parts of KCC

Hale Makua Health Services Chief Executive Officer Wesley Lo describes the expected “tsunami” in the elderly population and explains the need for care homes, assisted-living facilities and home- and community-based services. This photo was taken Thursday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

KAHULUI — A new senior center and living and rehabilitation facilities could be in the works at the Kahului Community Center Park.

Hale Makua Health Services, along with Mayor Alan Arakawa and Maui County Council Member Don Guzman, is working on a lease involving portions of the 34-acre park, currently home to a community center, the Kokua Pool, tennis courts, soccer fields and walking paths.

Hale Makua officials would like to expand its Kahului facility, which is located next to the park. The council’s Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs Committee, chaired by Guzman, has been discussing the lease over the past several months.

“We think this is the cat’s meow,” said Hale Makua Chief Executive Officer Wesley Lo. “This is an opportunity of a lifetime.”

He stressed that the organization is not looking to take away the pool or any fields from the community, but have changes to the park facilities take place as the county finds replacements and expands its parks inventory. Changes of control over the park property would need to go through the council, Lo said, adding that plans need to be developed, funding needs to be secured and the lease executed. The organization’s master plan is expected to be completed in the next month or so, he said.

Wesley Lo, chief executive officer of Hale Makua Health Services, explains how a possible long-term lease with Maui County for land in the neighboring Kahului Community Center Park could help expand the Hale Makua Kahului campus and help the county deal with the projected increase in elderly population. Hale Makua’s first phase of its expansion project could include the gateball park facing Kaulana Street in Kahului where Lo is standing. A care home or a rehabilitation facility could be located at the grassy site as well. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The current vision would first involve the south end of the property, away from the soccer/baseball fields, pool and tennis courts.

The first phase would have Hale Makua develop the grassy parcel adjacent to its driveway and facing Kaulana Street, also known as the gateball field. That would be the site of a care home or a rehabilitation facility, Lo said.

There are currently no cost estimates or timelines. Lo noted that it would take time for plans, even in the first phase, to come to fruition as environmental studies and public outreach would need to be conducted.

Lo said Hale Makua is seeking to branch out as it prepares for what has been called the “tsunami” in the senior population as baby boomers age. Lo said he is in this group.

By 2020, 26 percent of Hawaii’s population will be 60 and older, according to the 2017-2019 Hawaii State Plan on Aging.

“We are running out of time,” Lo said in his Kahului office last week. “It’s a big problem. As we age, we need to ensure that we have convenient access to recreational and social activities for our seniors, as well as convenient health care options to allow our kupuna to gracefully age in place.”

He added that the goal is not to have more institutional facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes, but to have people stay in their homes, with entities such as Hale Makua delivering services when needed.

According to a presentation Lo gave the council committee earlier this year, there is a national shift away from nursing homes and growth in assisted-living and home- and community-based services. Nationally, Medicaid spending on home- and community-based services now exceeds spending on institutional services.

Hale Makua’s expansion could include a rehabilitation center that could serve those who continue to live at home. Currently, there are only a handful of patients who live off-site who are treated at Hale Makua rehab.

Doctors could also be based at an expanded site, allowing them to make house calls to elderly people in the neighborhoods surrounding the park, which have many senior citizens, Lo said.

Grant Chun, executive director of Hale Mahaolu low-income housing near the park, has testified in favor of the lease. Chun is also on the of board directors of Hale Makua.

Arakawa has called the long-term project important and the first of its kind of Maui.

“Working together, the county wants to help Hale Makua create our first senior care campus in Central Maui,” he said in his May 18 “Our County” column in The Maui News.

“Simple things like getting to and from the doctor’s office, the hospital, rehabilitation facilities and obtaining other services become more difficult,” Arakawa said. “But what if there was a place where senior housing, senior care and everything in between were all within walking distance of each other?”

Arakawa’s administration has also said that the county has acquired many acres of parkland in Central Maui that should eventually serve as replacement facilities, in addition to the new Central Maui Regional Sports Complex, developed by the state with the county’s support.

Down the line, Lo said, a gem of the development would be a new senior center, because Maui’s main senior center, Kaunoa, is in Spreckelsville, away from the center of town. The county administration has also said the center could be used for community events, similar to how senior centers in Lahaina, Lanai and Spreckelsville are also used by the larger community.

Guzman would like to see a new senior center in Kahului. He feels there could be a public and private partnership for Kahului Community Center Park, so the burden of managing the 34 acres was not all on Hale Makua.

But he wants to ensure that community uses at the park are protected.

He noted there were concerns from his committee about a proposal that would allow a 75-year agreement for Hale Makua to lease the park parcel, even as control over various facilities, including Kokua Pool, would not be given to Hale Makua without council approval.

He said the initial lease could maybe involve only parts of the park relating to the initial phases, with agreements about the pool and fields coming later in the process.

Not everyone is excited about the plans.

Area resident Kehau Filimoeatu told the committee last month that she was concerned over “taking away from the keiki, opio, to take care of the kupuna.”

She added that elders would “never ask that you take from the keiki to feed me first, so that’s an insult to me as a kupuna.”

She questioned the need for the lease and wondered if it was “to make more money.” She was also concerned about parklands being used for housing.

According to council documents, the county administration has suggested that if the proposed lease is approved, the Planning Department would initiate a change of zoning from R-2 Residential District to a Public/Quasi-public District and a community plan amendment from Park to Public/Quasi-public.

The designations would allow continued park uses as well as uses proposed by Hale Makua, the documents said.

Longtime swim coach Malcolm Cooper previously told The Maui News that swim clubs were concerned that Kokua Pool might close.

But Maui United Soccer Club President Tony Takitani said he thinks the project is a “great idea and a wonderful plan.”

KCC fields are the club’s primary practice place, but as long as the club has a place to practice, whether at the current park or at a new one, he supports the proposed vision.

“I think the county has the wherewithal and ability to build a few more fields,” he added.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

COMMENTS