Pahoa pool reopens to the delight of area residents

  • Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Pahoa resident Linda Berry steps out of the swimming pool at Pahoa Community Aquatic Center after being the first person to get in Wednesday after it was reopened.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Lifeguard Cassandra Beccia gets a hug from Naomi Powers at the Pahoa Community Aquatic Center Wednesday after the pool’s reopening.

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald A lifeguard talks to swimmers at the Pahoa Community Aquatic Center Wednesday after the pool’s reopening.

For the first time in months, swimmers glided through the water at the Pahoa Community Aquatic Center on Wednesday morning.

Others made a literal splash as they jumped off the diving board, and at the opposite end of the pool a small group began their aquatic exercises.

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The pool reopened following a blessing ceremony Wednesday, nine months after it closed because of last year’s Kilauea eruption in lower Puna.

The pool’s showers served as hygiene stations for evacuees at the emergency shelter established at Pahoa District Park, and repairs were needed because of damage caused by the eruption.

“This is a great, great day for people of Pahoa,” Parks and Recreation Deputy Director Maurice Messina told the crowd gathered for the blessing. “You guys get your pool back.”

The comment was met with cheers. Dozens of people gathered for the reopening, many ready with their swimming gear.

“Thank you very much for coming out on this momentous day, I’m sure everyone is very, very happy that we finally get to open doors again, and you guys get to go back into the pool,” said Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen.

In addition to cleaning Pele’s hair, or fine threads of volcanic glass, Waltjen said cracks along the bottom of the pool and sidewalks were repaired, and “some of the major workings within the pumps” were replaced.

“But today? Today you get to swim,” she said.

Linda Berry of Pahoa was among the swimmers eager to make her way into the aquatic center and was the first to enter the water.

Her excitement was almost tangible when she spoke.

Berry said not having the pool meant a “much higher gas budget” for the commute to Hilo to swim.

“It’s just so much more relaxed here. … I don’t know how to put it, it’s just an energy here that’s not at the Hilo pool,” said Berry.

Being back at the Pahoa pool feels like “pure joy.”

“I’m born under the sign of water. This is my element,” she said. “… I’m home. I’m home. This is home. My home away from home. On Sunday, it’s the church of the Pahoa aquatic center.”

Dianne McDaniel of Orchidland said she was “ecstatic” to return to the pool, where she does water aerobics.

Having the pool closed for so long was sad, but McDaniel said she understood why.

When asked how she felt about the pool’s reopening, she said “I don’t want to sound cliche, but I want to say amazing.”

Her grandson, Zanth McDaniel, also of Orchidland, was happy to have the pool open again and grateful for the work that went into it.

“I think after waiting for so long, people should really come to appreciate the fact that we finally have it back again,” he said, adding that the facility is much needed because many people “can’t really make it to the ocean, and they just want to get in and stretch their legs.”

Waltjen told the Tribune-Herald in December the repairs cost $146,000, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to cover most of the expense since it’s related to the eruption.

“My happiness is 10 times greater when I see … how happy the people are to have their pool back so they can get back into their exercise routines, and, you know, bring their grandchildren down,” Waltjen said after the blessing.

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.

Waltjen said Parks and Recreation will work to re-sod the fields one at a time and also redo the gymnasium floor.

“We want to thank the public for their patience and their understanding,” she said. “We know it’s been a long run, and it’s been a tough one because I know they were displaced and had to go to different pools. … But Pahoa pool is open for business, so come on back, people.”

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The Pahoa pool will operate on an adjusted schedule until two vacant lifeguard positions are filled. It will be open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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