By Crystal Kua
But Mayor Harris’ office says it still intends to proceed with the repairs
Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann has promised that one of his first acts in office will be to kill a proposed $6.1 million construction project to repair the aging Waikiki War Memorial.
“I plan to send a letter to (Mayor Jeremy Harris’ administration) in writing to say in effect that I will cancel the contract, I will cancel the work on the Natatorium when I become the mayor,” Hannemann said yesterday. “So I’m asking (the Harris) administration to think about not proceeding.”
It is the most forceful declaration yet by Hannemann on his plans for the crumbling memorial to World War I veterans. The memorial has been at the center of a controversy over whether the structure, with its saltwater pool, should be fully restored.
But Harris administration officials said they will not back down.
“We’re going forward with the repairs to stabilize the structure so we don’t endanger health, life, safety of our residents and the general public,” Managing Director Ben Lee said. “We’re hoping that Mayor-elect Mufi Hannemann will read the technical report and our engineering report and get all the facts.”
A Circuit Court judge allowed the city in 1999 to continue with part of an $11 million restoration that included renovating the facility’s restrooms but not restoring the saltwater pool until the city abides by state rules for such pools, a requirement that has stalled the project.
In May a section on the pool deck collapsed, leaving a large hole at the edge of the bleachers on the mauka wall. After the incident, the city hired a contractor to begin work to stabilize the nearly 80-year-old structure.
“I just want to let the public know that it’s clear in my mind that this is not the prudent use of taxpayers’ dollars,” Hannemann said. He decided to make his feelings public, he explained, so Harris’ administration will reconsider and “maybe not proceed forward,” he said.
Hannemann has not been a fan of full restoration of the Natatorium and instead wants to save its arch as a tribute to the veterans. He also wants to expand the beach in that area.
Hannemann said he expects his decision could lead to a lawsuit but that it would be far more expensive to maintain the Natatorium in the long run.
Critics of the project applauded Hannemann’s stance.
“He’s showing a great deal of responsibility. He’s setting a tone on what he plans to do, which is to make the area into a functional memorial rather than a dysfunctional memorial,” said Rick Bernstein, of the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which is in court to stop restoration of the memorial.
But Peter Apo, spokesman for the Friends of the Natatorium, said that if Hannemann is not going to fix the structural problems, “it’s a huge accident waiting to happen.”