KAILUA-KONA — The gavel is set to strike the block this week at the new Keahuolu Courthouse as court operations scattered across several sites in North Kona and South Kona finally converge under one roof.
The stately, three-story 140,000-square-foot judiciary complex opens to the public at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday for its first day of official court operations at the facility located at 74-5451 Kamakaeha Ave., north of Makalapua Shopping Center.
“The prospects and excitement of settling into Keahuolu Courthouse are energizing judges and staff. We can’t wait to welcome the public and continue to provide exemplary service in the new facility when the doors open Sept. 3,” said Jan Kagehiro, Judiciary spokeswoman. There will be signage to direct users throughout the courthouse and staff will be able to assist, if needed.
Judges for the past month have been informing attorneys and their clients that their cases would be heard at the new court house effective Sept. 3, which is Tuesday. During that timeframe, furniture and equipment was also being installed at the new courthouse as the judiciary’s information technology staff deployed and tested equipment such as phones, computers, and printers.
“Court staff and movers are packing and moving boxes of files and additional existing equipment such as phones, computers, and printers and transporting usable furnishings,” said Kagehiro. The move will be finalized over the Labor Day holiday weekend.
The $95.8 million courthouse built by Nan Inc. is a stark contrast to the Judiciary’s now-former Kona court facilities. It is bringing together four court operations taking place at three sites in South and North Kona comprising 32,000 square feet into one modern, state-of-the-art courthouse.
“This will be so much more convenient for the Kona community,” said Kagehiro. “Keahuolu Courthouse will have five courtrooms, self-help center, law library, traffic violations bureau, legal documents, grand jury room, jury deliberations room, and more.”
The Keahuolu Courthouse’s first floor features the only public entrance, a blind vendor program center, a self-help center, driver’s education, temporary holding cells, juvenile and adult client services and sheriffs operations.
The second floor contains two district courtrooms and one family courtroom as well as the traffic violations bureau, legal documents area and conference rooms.
Just one of the district courtrooms, both of which can seat 80 in the gallery, will be used initially.
On the third floor, there will be two circuit court rooms, a grand jury room, jury assembly and deliberation rooms, a law library and administrative offices.
And no more will custodies be walked through public areas, because the new facility has secure elevators to transport them from temporary holding cells to secure holding areas near the courtrooms. That’s in addition to an enclosed sally port where custodies being brought to the facility are offloaded from vehicles.
There are also secure and confidential meeting rooms for attorneys, witnesses and others, among other features.
And, there’ll be plenty of parking with nearly 300 stalls for the public, which includes accessible and carpool parking and charging stations for electric vehicles.
Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald made the courthouse a priority of his administration in November 2010, less than two months after being sworn into office. The Keahuolu Courthouse is envisioned to meet the community’s needs beyond 2030.
In a prepared statement he attributed its reality to the vision of retired Chief Judge Ronald Ibarra and the support of the state Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor, Hawaii bar associations, and countless others.
“I’m also extremely happy for the West Hawaii community. For years, we have been providing court services in three different buildings, none of which were designed as courthouses. Very soon the public will have a full-service facility where they can take care of all court-related matters in a centralized, convenient, and secure environment, and can access an expanded self-help center where volunteer attorneys will provide legal information to assist them,” Recktenwald said.
Talk of a centralized courthouse for Kona dates back to the 1990s when, for a short period, a new judicial facility for the area appeared close to becoming reality before somehow dropping from the Judiciary’s priority list.
In 1985, the Judiciary took over the Keakealani Building for operations, expanded to the Lender’s building in the early 1990s and then to the site of a former farm supply store on Halekii Street.
A courthouse for Kona moved back on the radar in May 2009 when then-Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Moon said $550,000 had been budgeted for planning.
Late the next year, officials unveiled 12 possible sites for the facility. In October 2013, following issues with site selection and completion of environmental studies, Recktenwald selected the Keahuolu Courthouse site.
Funding for the facility’s construction was passed by the state Legislature and approved by Gov. David Ige in 2015.
Construction got underway in October 2016.