The yet-to-open Kuawa Street park is anything but a field of dreams for Hawaii County.
The new baseball and multipurpose ball fields in Hilo were first estimated to be open in 2016, but the discovery of contaminated soil pushed the timeline back a year.
Then poor drainage kept the grass from growing properly, causing the contractor to change the grade of the multipurpose field and add proper drainage at their expense after completing the facility.
Roxcie Waltjen, county Parks and Recreation director, said parts of the fields continue to have bare spots where grass isn’t properly taking root, and she still is waiting for confirmation that they are ready for games.
But, in case that doesn’t happen, she said the county might have to consider alternatives for the $3.5 million park, which could involve changing its use.
“At this point, we’re not there yet,” she said.
An alternative could be turning the ball fields into a more passive use park.
Mayor Harry Kim, who inherited the park project when he took office in 2016, said he doesn’t expect that scenario to play out. He said the contractor is confident the grass will eventually hold.
The park was built by Isemoto Contracting and designed by SSFM International.
Kim said he told the contractor during the first year of his term that he can’t accept the park until the issues are fixed.
“I was more than elated of their willingness to address the shortcomings,” he said.
As for alternative uses, Kim said that was something he brought up early on if the issues can’t be addressed.
At this point, he said the county is waiting for word from the contractor that the fields are ready for use.
“They wanted this grass to really take,” Kim said. “They had to shave the whole top because there was no crown.”
Troy Keolanui, regional commissioner for the American Youth Soccer Organization, said he looks forward to being able to use the multipurpose field, which could host football, soccer and rugby.
AYSO currently uses the bayfront ball fields for practices and games, but he noted it would be nice to have a field set aside for matches.
“Practicing wears them out,” Keolanui said.
The organization also is hosting a tournament this summer. He hopes to see the Kuawa Street park ready in time.
“They had their problems with the grading,” Keolanui said.
“It looks to me like they got it figured out and dialed in, and I hope that they do.”
Funding for the ball fields was approved during a flurry of parks and public works projects at the end of former Mayor Billy Kenoi’s second term.
In 2015, the county council passed a $99.75 million bond, of which $50 million went for 18 parks projects.
Waltjen said she walks the ball fields at least once every three days to check on the conditions. The county also got some help from the Boy Scouts, who added more sod and seed to bare spots two weeks ago.
She estimated last fall that the park would be ready for use in early 2019.
“I would really like it to be open this summer,” Waltjen said Tuesday.
“All professionals involved, including the contractor, says yes, it’s taken a little longer.”
Waltjen said the department gets 15-20 calls a week from people inquiring about the ball fields.
Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, whose district includes the park, said she is frustrated with the delays, and she is requesting park officials to address the council April 23.
“There are far too many people who drive past that park and constantly see it closed,” Lee Loy said.
She said constituents used to her ask her about when it will open, but they mostly now comment about it being seen as a waste.
“There’s a very low expectation there,” Lee Loy said.
According to the project’s environmental assessment, the park is partially located in a flood zone and is 9-10 feet above sea level.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.