Honolulu posts ideas to replace natatorium

Honolulu Advertiser
By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

The natatorium’s facade may or may not remain, and is not included in the cost estimates. Design 3B would keep the bleachers that are inside the war memorial in place.
Advertiser library photo

The natatorium gate has been locked for decades. To the left are some of the bleachers that might be kept along the shore.
Advertiser library photo

A sandy beach could be created at the site of the crumbling Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium for as little as $1.7 million — not counting the cost of demolishing the monument — and with little to no effect on the surrounding shoreline, says a new city-commissioned report that weighs proposals for doing away with the landmark.

Some of the options, the report notes, could also cause “significant erosion” at adjacent Kaimana Beach.

The study, which presents seven options for creating a sandy beach at the site, comes as the city weighs what to do with the legendary saltwater pool. Conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it will be used to help make a decision. A separate study is being conducted to estimate the costs of refurbishing the natatorium, whose fate has been in limbo since it was closed for safety reasons in 1979.

The Army Corps study, which cost $300,000, lays out how the creation of a sandy beach at the site is possible using a variety of rocky structures, including T-head groins, straight groins and breakwaters.

Three of the options could result in erosion of Kaimana Beach, which the study indicates could be significant; three of the options would have no impact on Kaimana; and one of the options would not impact Kaimana but would create a sandy beach in front of the natatorium described as “unstable.”

The study estimates that putting in a beach and structures to keep the sand in place and deter erosion at Kaimana would likely cost from $1.7 million to $6.3 million — not counting demolishing the pool and moving the facade. The most expensive option studied includes keeping the pink facade and bleachers intact, while removing the swimming pool to create a sand beach bounded by an L-groin, a straight groin and two breakwaters. That option is the most costly because it would create a larger beach than the other alternatives.

The cost estimate does not take into account any work that might be needed to the facade.

Although the options aren’t cheap, the city believes they are far less expensive than restoring the natatorium. A project in 2000 aimed at reopening the pool estimated a renovation would cost about $11.5 million, but onlookers said that figure was far too low because it didn’t consider required health equipment and monitoring for saltwater pools.

The Army Corps report didn’t attempt to calculate how much it would cost to demolish the natatorium, and city officials say an analysis of that is also under way. A 1994 study estimated the cost of demolition at $533,000, or about $766,000 in today’s dollars.

POOL RESCUE OPTION

The city has stressed it has not yet made a call on whether to tear out the swimming pool, but those who support its restoration say they are becoming more concerned — especially in the wake of the report. This coming Memorial Day, at an annual veterans’ commemoration event at the natatorium, groups are planning for what they believe will likely be a last-ditch effort to raise awareness and to kick off a donation campaign to try to save the historic site.

“If you destroy the swimming pool, you’re obviously destroying part and parcel of the war memorial,” said Fred Ballard, secretary of the Friends of the Natatorium and president of the O’ahu Veterans Council. “We don’t want to be the first state in the union to tear down a war memorial. We obviously want to maintain the facility.”

Others disagree that tearing down the pool means doing away with the memorial.

Jim Bickerton, attorney for the Kaimana Beach Coalition, which has opposed efforts to revamp the natatorium’s swimming pool, said the Army Corps study provides some good ideas for opening up prime beach space in the area. He added that demolition of the pool would benefit more park and beach users and do away with a safety hazard.

“We certainly think that a beach and a public park can easily be designed and built as a living memorial,” he said, adding that the Army Corps report shows how the city can both create a new beach and preserve the existing adjacent beach. “This is something the community really needs and the cost is significantly less than any number that’s ever been quoted for restoring … the natatorium. We think it makes a lot of sense.”

The Army Corps report is part of a push by the city to resolve the natatorium’s future.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann said earlier this year that the “fate of the Waikiki natatorium has dogged the city for decades” and he is “seriously considering” demolition of the natatorium and relocation of the facade fronting the Olympic-size pool farther inland or to another location, because its restoration would likely be too costly. The mayor has also said, though, that a decision won’t be made until the city hears from a broad cross-section of stakeholders.

Collins Lam, deputy director of the city Department of Design and Construction, said he hopes to have a task force of people on both sides of the issue formed before the start of summer. It’s unclear when the group will be ready to send its recommendations to the mayor.

But it appears a decision could come before the end of the year, given the natatorium’s frail condition.

CRUMBLING AWAY

The Waikiki war memorial started to show significant maintenance issues as far back as the 1970s, and the pool deck now has massive holes where concrete has corroded away or fallen into the ocean, leaving exposed rusted rebar behind. In 2004, city engineers said the concrete deck and perimeter sea walls were serious collapse hazards.

The pool opened in 1927, with famed swimmer and surfer Duke Kahanamoku diving in for the first swim. The swimming pool was built with territorial money to honor those who fought in World War I, and in memory of those who died. The well-known landmark is on national and state registers of historic places.

Over the past decade, the city has spent millions of dollars on the natatorium.

In 1999, then-mayor Jeremy Harris launched a project to restore it. But the project only got as far as its first phase, aimed at fixing the facade and its arch. The second phase of work was halted after a court ruled that the city would have to obtain Health Department permits and adhere to stricter-than-expected standards to open the saltwater pool. Then, in 2004, a collapse of part of the site’s deck prompted emergency repairs.

That work was never completed, though, because Hannemann shelved the $6.1 million repair effort after taking office in January 2005. Since then, only minor repairs have been done to the facade.

The Army Corps study, which took 18 months to conduct, uses wave action data and other calculations to determine the effects of creating a sandy beach in front of the natatorium. It also lays out how much sandy beach each option would create.

The study says the most expensive option would create a 64,300-square-foot beach, while the cheapest option would create a 3,200-square-foot beach. The other options create beaches ranging from 10,500 to 47,300 square feet.

The study does not have a recommendation on which option the city should pursue.