Emergency repair set for Waikiki natatorium

Honolulu Advertiser
By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Parts of the War Memorial Natatorium in Waikiki are so badly deteriorated that the entire complex could collapse eventually, city officials said yesterday.

To address the problem, the city plans to spend $6.6 million for emergency repairs to the natatorium’s pool and deck structure.

Even then, the pool and adjacent bleacher area will remain off-limits to the public unless money can be found for more improvements, said Tim Steinberger, director of the city Department of Design and Construction.

Two engineering reports commissioned by the city after part of the deck collapsed in April concluded the pool and its underlying structure had extensive cracking, corrosion and a loss of structural integrity.

“If the progressive deterioration is not mitigated, it could potentially threaten the integrity of the entire swim basin structure, almost certainly leading to additional collapses,” one report said.

The city’s decision to repair the structure is sure to spark another round in a long-running debate over what to do with the memorial, built in 1927 to honor World War I veterans from Hawai’i. Some want to see it restored to its original glory, while others prefer to see it torn down and the beach restored.

The recent engineering reports also found extensive concrete damage and corroded steel in the perimeter seawalls that protect the natatorium structure. If the seawalls aren’t fixed, a domino effect could bring down the bleachers, which hold up the memorial’s distinctive Beaux Arts wall and arch, Steinberger said.

“If left unchecked, the entire structure could eventually collapse into the ocean,” he said.

The $6.6 million to be used for repairs was earmarked for pool repairs in 1998 but never spent, after restoration opponents filed a lawsuit to stop the project. A clause in the lawsuit’s consent degree allows work to continue, however, if the public’s health and safety is at stake.

The money will restore structural integrity to the pool but won’t bring it up to state Health Department standards, as required by the lawsuit settlement, Steinberger said. He said city officials, probably in the next administration, will have to seek more money from the City Council to complete the job, or the pool area will remain fenced off and closed.

Rick Bernstein of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which favors tearing down the memorial and restoring the beachfront to its natural state, said yesterday that making the repairs now would be “throwing good money after bad.”

The city’s engineering reports did not consider erosion occurring beneath the pool’s structure, he said.

“There’s no point in fixing the corrosion if the substrata is eroding away,” Bernstein said. “It is imperative to do core sampling beneath the bleachers to determine the extent of erosion, before even considering any other remedial action.”

He said the city is using the most recent cave-in of the pool deck to move ahead with repair work it wanted to do all along.

“All the city did was a visual inspection of the structure. There’s no stress testing, no soil sampling, no scientific data at all in the reports,” Bernstein said. “They’re not addressing the real issue — that the whole structure is sitting on nothing.”

Nancy Bannick of Friends of the Natatorium said the city work would be a start toward the group’s goal of seeing the natatorium restored to its original condition.

“They’ve got to start someplace,” she said. “What they have to do is get going, and then maybe we can find money some other places to get the job done. At least there won’t be any further destruction.”

In 1998, the city spent $4 million to repair the natatorium’s concrete bleachers and adjoining memorial wall before the lawsuit stopped work. That repair work has begun to show signs of deterioration, the engineering reports said.

While the bleacher structure appears to be in good condition overall, large cracks, evidence of corrosion and signs of foundation settlement were seen in the bleacher supports, slab and walls, as well as in the support holding up the entryway arch, engineers said.

“Our concern is if we didn’t do anything, the structure would eventually collapse into the ocean,” Steinberger said. “Then there would be concrete and rebar sticking out all over in a very heavily used area, and it would be impossible to keep people away.”

Demolishing the natatorium was not a viable option, he said.

“It’s considered a historic building, and you can’t just go in and tear it down. That would be more problematic than fixing it.”

Steinberger said repair work could start as early as next month and would take about 10 months to complete.

Reach Mike Leidemann at 525-5460 or mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.