City buying fake rocks for Hanauma Bay park
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Bureau
To make the Hanauma Bay education center seem more natural, the city is spending about $1 million for a fake rock facade to replicate the cliffs around the marine preserve.
"I didn't know they're using simulated rock walls," said David Washino, East Honolulu Community Coalition spokesman, the organization that has been critical of the education center.
"No matter how much rock you put up there and grass, it will be difficult to hide the fact that there's buildings 18 feet high."
Since 1998, the city has held numerous community meetings where it presented its proposals.
Mary Houghton, a member of the Hawai'i Kai Neighborhood Board, said the idea of the fabricated rock has come up often at meetings. She has even seen a sample of the material, she said.
"It should be better than real rock because it won't erode," Houghton said. "The whole idea is to be as natural looking as possible."
The sculptured rock, as it is called, produces a precise duplicate of the natural cliff face that makes Hanauma Bay so stark and unique.
Duplicated rocks are made of fiberglass, resin, epoxy and rock dust. They will be used to cover the buildings that will become the city's education center, restaurant and beach restrooms.
The top and sides of the education center that face the parking lot will be covered with earth. Landscaping will improve its appearance.
The sculptured rock will be used on the center's exterior facing the ocean.
Work began in April on the improvements. The project is expected to be done in November.
"It will look like a natural hillside of black lava rock, coral and limestone," said John Groark, owner of John Groark and Associates, which manufactures simulated rock walls for aquariums and hotels around the Pacific Basin.
Using real rock to replicate the cliffs would have been far more expensive and almost impossible to make look natural, Groark said.
Groark began the process in much the same way a dentist makes molds of teeth by taking silicone casts of the bay's rock face.
He then sent those 10-foot-long casts to a factory in the Philippines where more than 200 workers toiled to make the cliffs, complete with nooks and crannies.
"You could never do this with natural rock," Groark said. "What's fantastic is you can turn an architectural building into a natural building."
The building's facade was pre-assembled to ensure that all the pieces fit correctly. The pieces were then taken apart and shipped here.
Right now they're hunks of molded rocks lying on their side, their turquoise painted underside showing through. When assembled, the pieces will fit together like a jigsaw puzzle, covering the buildings starting the middle of next month, Groark said.
Even with work being halted in May because the education center's profile was too high, the timeline for completion seems to be on schedule.
The delivery made Alan Hong, Hanauma Bay manager, happy to see the project moving along.
The bay's education center has been mired in controversy over whether it will blend in.
Critics have maintained that it's too large and shouldn't be built at the edge of the cliff overlooking the marine sanctuary.
Advertiser staff writer Johnny Brannon contributed to this report.