EA supports Pahoa library: All three potential sites for a public facility found suitable

  • Ashley Kierkiewicz

The final environmental assessment was published last week for a public library in Pahoa.

The document has a finding of no significant impact to the environment regardless of which site among the top three identified in the document is chosen for construction of the facility.

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Puna is now served by three libraries, all co-located on public school campuses: Keaau Public and School Library, Mountain View Public and School Library, and Pahoa Public and School Library.

According to the EA, in the 1960s, when those libraries were built, that model was a design strategy. But nowadays, with rapid population growth in Puna and security issues on school campuses, the state’s Public Library System wants to build new, modern public facilities away from the schools.

“The idea of moving public libraries out of the schools has been a statewide effort for many years,” said Russell Ruderman, owner of Island Naturals grocery chain. Ruderman, a former state senator, while in office was a driving force for a new library in Pahoa and remains a proponent of the proposed project.

The EA stated the proposed library construction — at a preliminary cost estimate of more than $11 million — would include 8,000 square feet of enclosed, air-conditioned interior space and 1,000 square feet for an indoor-outdoor entry lanai activity area.

“The library will also play an important role in providing community access to broadband and will utilize available marginal or nonessential agricultural lands for appropriate urban use …,” the EA stated.

The top-three sites selected by the Public Library System were based on a number of criteria, including the feasibility of acquisition, size, slope, access, adequacy of water service and wastewater systems, and cost considerations.

The top-rated site, or Site 1, is on state-owned property near the Pahoa police, fire and driver licensing facility, located off the makai side of Highway 130 about a quarter-mile prior to the Pahoa Bypass Road roundabout.

Site 2 is located on county-owned property at the Pahoa District Park, near the Pahoa Community Center and adjacent to a residential housing development off Kauhale Street in Pahoa town.

And Site 3 is located on a highway-adjacent portion of a larger and currently vacant state-owned property, mauka of Highway 30 and about 1.5 miles north of Pahoa town.

“Of those sites, I’ve always favored the one next to the fire station,” Ruderman said. “That’s been their No. 1 choice for a long time, and I’m happy that remains. My reasons for preferring it are: it is visible, so it will get used; it’s at a place where we can have a bus stop; and it’s accessible to everybody.”

County Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who represents Puna, prefers Site 3 and expressed “reservations about Sites 1 and 2.”

“With the first site selection, there are concerns about subterranean cultural resources that could be impacted,” Kierkiewicz said. “And in my conversations with fire and police, they do have concerns about this facility being constructed so close to their station … and their need for space in the case they need to mobilize an incident command center because lava or a hurricane has happened in the area.”

Kierkiewicz said her conversations with county departments of Parks and Recreation and Public Works turned up concerns about increased traffic in Pahoa town if the library is located at the park.

Both Ruderman and Kierkiewicz are excited about what a new library can mean for the area.

“It’s going to be a modern library in the sense of it being more than just books. It’ll be more than just e-books,” Ruderman said. “There’ll be meeting rooms and all kinds of teaching facilities that’ll make it a multipurpose facility. To me, a library offers the opportunity for an education for everybody. You may have just come to this country. You may have no computer at home. But you can go to the library any day of the week and read anything you want and take any course you want online.

“There are a lot of folks in this neighborhood, both kids and adults, who don’t have the internet, who don’t have computers at home.”

Kierkiewicz envisions the library as “a brand-new community gathering place.”

“What they really describe in the plan is a resilience hub that takes care of the social aspect to support community health and well-being,” she said. “And in times of disaster, it could certainly be mobilized to provide support. If you look at how libraries have been used during the pandemic to provide additional support to kids and families, it could be a huge community resource.

“… Site 3 seems the most appropriate because we would be creating another much-needed asset for the region.”

Ruderman said that with the finding of no significant impact in the final EA, Puna could have a new library built within five years.

Kierkiewicz said it’s “going to come down to what goes on at the state Legislature.”

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“It’s a state library,” she said. “We’re going to need our Puna legislators, (Sen.) Joy San Buenaventura and (Rep.) Greggor Ilagan. We’re going to need their leadership to secure funding and move the project forward. And I’ll do whatever I can in my capacity to advocate for funds.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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