Groundbreaking celebrated for Kona Judiciary Complex

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KAILUA-KONA — Judges, attorneys and community leaders gathered Monday to formally break ground for the Kona Judiciary Complex on a scraped-down section of lava near the Makalapua Shopping Center.

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KAILUA-KONA — Judges, attorneys and community leaders gathered Monday to formally break ground for the Kona Judiciary Complex on a scraped-down section of lava near the Makalapua Shopping Center.

It comes after decades of lobbying for a state-of-the-art facility, as the state judiciary sought to consolidate three buildings not designed for courthouses into one modern complex.

“I was born in the courthouse where I work today — it used to be the Old Kona Hospital,” 3rd Circuit Court Chief Judge Ronald Ibarra, one of the guest speakers, told the crowd of roughly 200. “But the building is more than 75 years old and we need to be able to provide the infrastructure to deliver justice for generations to come. This groundbreaking symbolizes the future, while bringing with us the solid foundation we have built thus far.”

Hospitals aren’t the only former uses for the three buildings, either.

Judge Melvin Fujino currently holds court in a former farm supply store, where Ibarra remembers buying fertilizer. And Family Court is held in what was a real estate office.

“Finally, we’ll have a place to call home,” Ibarra said, pausing, then shouting: “It’s about time!”

The current triad of buildings will be replaced by a 140,000-square-foot facility, scheduled to be complete in the middle of 2019.

The project will cost $90 million, giving West Hawaii a three-story facility with five courtrooms, a law library, self-help center, conference rooms, holding cells, witness rooms, attorney interview rooms and a grand jury meeting room.

It’s also designed for additional growth.

The fact there will be a new courthouse on the west side of the island is “hugemongous,” said Mitch Roth, prosecuting attorney, explaining huge wasn’t quite big enough and humongous was used earlier by Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald to describe the facility’s importance.

Roth said the current structures make life difficult for the attorneys operating within the courts, such as issues with displaying evidence or being heard while speaking.

The difference in the new Hilo courthouse and the one in Kailua-Kona is like going from a First World situation to a Third World one, he said. One problem with having court in such buildings is it makes people doubt they will receive justice, despite the quality of the judiciary staff and attorneys.

Ibarra agreed. He said he remembers attorneys from the mainland arrive and appear to doubt justice could be fairly administered in the old hospital.

The new site sits on 10-acres in Keahuolu in North Kona, above the coastline.

The groundbreaking ceremony included the traditional pikai, or spiritual sprinkling of salted waters, with accompanying Hawaiian prayer chants to sanctify the premises. Kahu Daniel Akaka said a prayer for the leaders involved in the project as well as the workers who will be involved in the construction of the new courthouse, which formally starts Friday.

Recktenwald said the project marked years of working together.

“This would not be possible without the support of the Legislature and Gov. David Ige,” Recktenwald said. “I would also like to acknowledge the deep commitment and enormous efforts of Rep. Nicole Lowen, Sen. Josh Green, the late Sen. Gil Kahele, and all the Big Island legislators. These partners were key to providing this much needed courthouse to the people of West Hawaii.”

It’s also symbolic of the fact that the state government acknowledges that West Hawaii residents are equal citizens, Lowen said. And it will help ensure the infrastructure of the region keeps up with the rapid growth.

“It will be nice to go to the courthouse to pay a parking ticket without getting another parking ticket because there is no parking,” Lowen said.

The new building will have 290 parking stalls. And unlike the current situation, parking is not planned to include an open field.

The size of the project is one reason for its projected three-year cycle, said Frank Okimoto, vice president of operations at Nan Inc., the company constructing the building.

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“A courthouse is not your typical building,” Okimoto said about a project that requires different materials and more detail work than other structures. “And the rock in Kona is pretty tough.”

Email Graham Milldrum at gmilldrum@westhawaiitoday.com.

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