By Crystal Kua
The Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium now more than ever is under threat of being demolished because of the changing political climate at City Hall.
“It’s gotten to the point now where we really feel seriously threatened by this attempt to demolish,” said Peter Apo, a spokesman for Friends of the Natatorium. “Today launches the day when we’re going to seriously try to do something.”
Apo and several other supporters who gathered at the Natatorium yesterday fear the days may be numbered for the deteriorating monument to World War I veterans.
Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann has vowed to stop emergency repair work at the Natatorium. And a majority in the City Council is not eager to spend any more money to restore it.
“We don’t go tearing down war memorials,” said David Scott, executive director of Historic Hawaii Foundation. “We don’t go convert the Arizona Memorial into a volleyball venue.”
Natatorium restoration advocates said they are banding together to muster public support for full restoration.
“God bless them. They’re all good-intentioned people,” said Rick Bernstein of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which wants to save the Natatorium arches but not the saltwater pool.
“But their information is inaccurate,” Bernstein said. “We don’t wish to destroy the war memorial. We simply wish to adaptively recreate a war memorial, making it a functional memorial beach as compared to a dysfunctional memorial swimming pool.”
Councilman Charles Djou said his district, which includes the Natatorium, is divided, but he can see both arguments. His biggest concern is the cost to taxpayers.
Supporters claim it will be more expensive to tear the structure down to create a new beach. Beach supporters say it will cost more in the long run to maintain an aging structure.
“If we had stayed on track with the construction with the original appropriation, we would be swimming in that pool right now. There’s no question,” said Friends’ member Donna Ching.
But Bernstein said engineers have told him that creating the beach would cost about $6 million to $7 million.
Djou said while it may be less expensive in the short-term to complete the restoration started by Mayor Jeremy Harris than to destroy the pool and make a beach, the city would be hit with untold maintenance costs for an aging facility for years.
Djou said Natatorium supporters have read the political tea leaves correctly because “I think the logjam is going to get broken … in favor of tearing this down.”
The emergency repair work to shore up the Natatorium came after the pool deck collapsed in May. City spokeswoman Carol Costa said a contractor will be installing a perimeter fencing before proceeding with other work.