Natatorium repair defies frugality, common sense

Honolulu Advertiser

Forty years ago the Waikiki Natatorium of my youth was in general disrepair. Other than youth braver than I who would cannonball into the water, I never saw anyone swim in the bright green water that obscured the bottom. A swimmer, I imagined, would meet with a shallow coral bottom or with sea monsters slithering in this algae soup.

It is curious that the costly repair and then ongoing maintenance of a decayed structure continues to be a persistent issue with the mayor’s office. With the great many priorities needed by the people of Ho-nolulu such as solution-based programs for the homeless, drug-related law enforcement and treatment programs, road restoration and reasonable upkeep of our public parks and restrooms, there appears to be overwhelming public consensus for returning the pool to its highest and best use: as much-needed beach space, while keeping the facade as a fitting and honorable memorial to our World War I veterans.

On a crisp morning jog last fall in Stockbridge, Mass., I paused at the flagpole area of the town meeting hall. There on a large bronze tablet imbedded in a granite boulder were the names of hometown veterans who served in World War I. It was a solemn, enduring and eternal tribute to these men from a historic area of our country — one that required minimal maintenance after its installation about 90 years ago.

Perhaps Yankee frugality contributed to the design of this dignified memorial. With respect to the Natatorium, this same frugality married to common sense should be exercised: When would you spend $5,000 to fix a $500 car, or $500,000 to fix a $100,000 home? Probably when the money doesn’t come from you and potentially benefits special interest groups.

Good stewardship — the prudent and effective use of another’s resources — should always entail two questions: “Do we really need this?” and “If this were my money, would I buy or build this?”

The mayor’s office may have answered the first question, “Not really” and the second, “But it’s not my money.” In this time of fiscal limitations due in good part to government overspending, it is really time for common sense priorities — and taxpayer opinion — to prevail regarding the huge uncertain costs of rebuilding and maintaining the crumbling Natatorium.

John W. Nakao