The Pahoa Community Aquatic Center remains closed because of damage from the Kilauea eruption in lower Puna this summer, but repair work could start soon.
Hawaii County Parks and Recreation announced Friday it is seeking bids to complete the work, which is necessary following the eruption and seismic activity that occurred in the volcano’s lower East Rift Zone from May-August.
The project will address two primary problems, the department said in a news release Friday: the removal of Pele’s hair, or fine threads of volcanic glass, from the facility and repairing cracks in the main pool’s basin and deck areas.
“We are excited to have the bid out and to be moving forward with the restoration work at the Pahoa pool,” said Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen in the release. “The Puna community and our aquatic staff are eager to get back in the water. As you can imagine, this is a very extensive cleaning process and it took time for us to develop the scope of work to ensure that the contractor completes the restoration in accordance with best practices and county and state health standards.”
It is the first of many steps that will be taken to repair Pahoa District Park’s facilities for public use following its use as a temporary evacuation center, she said.
Among other tasks, the project will include pressure washing and rinsing exterior surfaces, the pool deck and equipment, as well as draining and pressure washing the main and keiki pools, sealing cracks and refilling and treating both pools.
In a follow-up phone interview, Waltjen said Pele’s hair got into the pool filters, motor, pump and sand.
“It’s kind of a messy situation,” she said, and “if we were to allow people to swim in a pool that had Pele’s hair, they’d probably get cut.”
She couldn’t estimate a cost for the project, but said 75 percent of that expense will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
While unexpected costs will affect the Parks and Recreation budget, “what we try to do is move things around or start things a little later,” Waltjen said.
A completion date will be determined once a contractor is selected.
With the closure of the pool, Waltjen said lifeguards were temporarily reassigned to other pools, “so that as soon as the Pahoa pool is up and going, they’ll be returning to their former site.”
Since the pool has been closed, swimmers have had to go elsewhere.
According to Waltjen, Parks and Rec staff noticed an increased number of people at Hilo Bayfront beaches and near surf spots such as Honolii. People also have been using NAS Swimming Pool and Kawamoto Swim Stadium in Hilo.
Lava evacuee Cindy Horwitz is one who now swims in Hilo.
She would swim in Pahoa every other day for exercise, but now swims at Kawamoto. And when she goes to the pool, Horwitz said she bumps into people she knows from Pahoa and has even talked to a swim coach who has to bring children to Hilo to swim.
Horwitz, who lived on Pohoiki Road, said she moved six times in six months before landing in Hawaiian Beaches.
“It was insane what we were going through,” not just in terms of the lava, but dealing with restricted access, as well, she said. “Swimming was my stress relief.”
When Horwitz heard an earlier planned reopening was delayed, “that’s when I just started crying,” she said. “That was the final straw for me, honestly.”
But she loves that progress is moving forward in getting the aquatic center ready for swimmers..
“One of the most wonderful things about Pahoa is that free community pool, open to everyone, free and beautiful,” she said. It’s a “real asset to the community.”
Interested bidders can find more information online at publicpurchase.com or by calling the county’s purchasing agent at 961-8231.
The deadline to submit bids to the county is Nov. 5.
“Everybody’s ready to get back in there and we want to move the process as quickly as possible,” Waltjen said.
Email Stephanie Salmons at firstname.lastname@example.org.