Group eyes $12M West Hawaii veterans center

  • A rendering from the draft environmental assessment shows the proposed West Hawaii Community Veterans Center looking mauka from Ane Keohokalole Highway. (Image from draft EA/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • A rendering from the draft environmental assessment shows the proposed West Hawaii Community Veterans Center looking from the southwest corner. (Image from draft EA/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • A rendering from the draft environmental assessment shows the secondary entrance for the proposed West Hawaii Community Veterans Center. (Image from draft EA/Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — A veterans-minded nonprofit is moving forward with plans to construct a $12 million West Hawaii Community Veterans Center in North Kona.

With an estimated 16,000-17,000 veterans on the Big Island, half of whom reside in West Hawaii, the West Hawaii Veterans Council Inc. hopes to get underway in 2021 the first phase of construction of the facility that would provide veterans, veterans groups and the community alike with much-needed gathering space.

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“There are a lot of veterans here,” said Bob Strickland, president of the council, a 501(c)(3) established in 2011. The council has four volunteer members who work to address veteran issues, initiatives, projects and problems that are important to West Hawaii.

A draft environmental assessment for the project, which will be built on state land off Kaiminani Drive, was released in late February. A finding of no significant impact is anticipated. Comments are due March 25.

The West Hawaii Veterans Council has already secured state funding of $185,000 for plans, including for the in-progress environmental assessment, and $965,000 for design.

The council is now pursuing grant-in-aid capital funding from the state Legislature to get the project going.

According to their application, $2 million is being sought for fiscal year 2019-20 and an additional $2 million will be sought in fiscal year 2020-21 to complete the first phase. The first phase comprises site preparation and constructing a parking area.

In all, three phases, each expected to cost about $4 million, will be needed to complete the facility, Strickland said. The group plans to seek more funding in succeeding years, including $2 million for construction in 2020-21 and $2 million in 2021-22.

Strickland said a request for the funding made Saturday to members of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means during a meeting in Waimea went “good.” The committee took up the applications during an informational briefing last week in Honolulu, which was not broadcast to neighbor islands. The House took up applications last month.

Details on approved grants are typically released in late April, after budget decking.

When complete, the 7,200-square-foot community center will comprise three single-story buildings connected by open-air pre-function areas. Inside, there’ll be a lobby, large and small meeting rooms, a social room, an office, bathroom facilities, storage and utilities, and commercial kitchen space.

The council will rent facility space, including the 2,056-square-foot grand meeting room and 1,000-square-foot kitchen, to help cover the cost of running the facility, which is intended to be a fully self-sustaining entity.

“This facility is not only a place for the veterans; an integral part of its self-sufficiency and success is community integration,” the draft EA reads.

The site, 3.8 acres south of Kaiminani Drive and mauka of Ane Keohokalole Highway, is across the street from the Kalaoa volunteer fire station. Access will be from Kaiminani Drive.

The vacant parcel is made up of pahoehoe lava-covered buffelgrass and koa haole, according to the document. No rare, threatened or endangered flora or fauna has been observed. No cultural or archaeological resources are expected to be impacted.

Though the site has been selected, the council still needs to secure from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources a long-term ground lease for the land.

Strickland said the lease would likely be executed once the EA is finalized.

That’s also around the time design work will commence.

The community center is part of a larger West Hawaii Veterans Center Complex that would include a VA-funded Veterans Center, a Community Based Outpatient Clinic and office space for the state Office of Veterans Services.

“This facility would be like a one-stop shop. A veteran could find everything he needs literally in one place,” said Strickland, noting the facility will be on a bus route making it easier to access.

However, none of these are presently scheduled for development, according to the document. The VA currently operates from a leased facility off Hualalai Road.

But, Strickland said, there is a possibility that once Ane Keohokalole Highway is connected from its terminus south of Kaiminani Drive to Hina Lani Street it will create a 5-acre parcel where the Community Based Outpatient Clinic could be situated.

Funding for that portion of Ane Keohokalole Highway, a county road, was struck in late 2018 as the county worked to address expenses in the wake of Hurricane Lane. Monies are likely to be put back in following the County Council’s approval of a half-cent general excise tax increase.

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On Friday, Public Works Director David Yamamoto said an archaeological survey was being started for the area where the road would be built. That survey would be followed by environmental studies and design before actual work could commence.

To view the draft EA, visit https://bit.ly/2Jd6r2M.

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