By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer
The seawalls of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium are starting to pull away from the rest of the aging structure with enough force that part of the pool deck recently collapsed in front of the bleachers.
Alarmed city officials closed the natatorium’s refurbished public bathrooms this week after the deck collapsed on the mauka side.
The bathrooms and the natatorium facade were part of a $4 million restoration project completed four years ago. Much of the natatorium, however, continues to deteriorate. The bathrooms, bleachers and other interior spaces rest on ground retained by the mauka seawall.
“We need to go in there and repair the decks right away,” City Managing Director Ben Lee said yesterday. “They provide the stability for the seawalls and the walls directly below the bleachers. If that moves from pounding waves, then it could do other things we don’t even know yet.”
Structural engineers will inspect the damage and should have a recommendation for the city in two weeks, Lee said. He said a preliminary inspection found the walls pulling away.
“I don’t know if it’s an eighth of an inch or a quarter of an inch, but we know that without the walkway we can’t keep those walls stable. Once it starts to move, there is no way to push it back.”
The situation is similar to a shoebox without a lid and a bottom, Lee said. The sides of a box like that cannot withstand much outside pressure before collapsing.
At the natatorium, which has only a sand bottom, the deck serves as the lid of the box, Lee said.
“It’s serious,” Lee said.
The natatorium opened in 1927 as a way to honor World War I veterans from Hawai’i and was shut down in 1979 by the Department of Health.
It will be the site of a Memorial Day service at 10 a.m. Sunday in which Mayor Jeremy Harris will speak. Harris has long been a supporter of full restoration of the natatorium.
The City Council earmarked $11 million for the full restoration of the natatorium in 1998. About $7 million remains. Lee said the money could be tapped to fix the current problems.
Full restoration remains on hold. The Kaimana Beach Coalition sued the city, and a judge determined in 1999 that the natatorium is a saltwater pool requiring regulation by the Health Department.
Nancy Bannick, vice president of Friends of the Natatorium, said the deteriorating pool cannot simply be carved away.
“The pool protects what we’ve got,” she said. “If the ocean is allowed to come in there, it will crush everything.”
She called the situation “urgent.”
“We have to do something,” Bannick said. “Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.”
Reach Mike Gordon at email@example.com or 525-8012.