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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Hanauma Bay work halted

By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Bureau

HAWAI'I KAI — A month into construction of the controversial Hanauma Bay education center, the city has ordered work stopped and the walls lowered by five feet because what was planned could be seen from the beach — something that wasn't supposed to happen.

Work on the city's controversial $10.6 million education center at Hanauma Bay was halted because the building was deemed too tall. The cost of lowering the building by five feet has not been determined.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

For the past three years, the city has pitched its plan for the $10.6 million education center, emphasizing water safety and preservation while opponents have argued that it would be an "eyesore, a blemish" on the state conservation area.

Designers promised that the building would blend into the landscape and would not mar the vista at one of O'ahu's finest snorkeling sites and top tourist attractions.

From the beginning, opponents were skeptical.

"This is an outrage," David Washino, spokesman for the East Honolulu Community Coalition, said yesterday. "We brought this up all along. We told them that they'll be able to see the center from the beach.

"It's a critical issue for us."

City representatives took the design change in stride.

"The building is higher than is necessary," said Ben Lee, city managing director. "We looked at it and they (the architects) have a good idea to make it less visible from the parking lot and the walkway."

Lee was accompanied by Mayor Jeremy Harris during Saturday's inspection of the project.

The education center stirred much debate in the community as Harris pushed for a grand vision for the area, while residents kept urging a more modest plan.

What resulted from many community meetings is a plan for a 19-foot-high education center, snack shop and gift shop, buried under a landscaped berm overlooking the water below.

The city began working on the education center and lower bay improvements in April.

Standing on the beach below, visitors see a tall concrete wall, with steel wires sticking out the top.

"We went last week, and saw how high it was and the construction was there, and the architect proposed a way to lower the profile of the building," Lee said.

Roy Nihei, the consultant hired by the city to oversee the project, said the center will be lowered along the face that sits on the rim of the edge of the bay. He did not think the changes would alter any of the work already done.

The cost for the revisions has not been determined, said Rod Hiraga, KFC Engineer project manager. Hiraga said he was awaiting confirmation from the city and plans from the architect to see if the changes are feasible and what the cost would be.

Work is progressing on the lower bay improvements. Gone is the A-frame snack bar and snorkel shop. In their place are earth-moving equipment and builders working on new bathrooms and showers. Work also continued on the snack bar, which will be next to the education center, Hiraga said.

The center was scheduled to be completed by November and used primarily to educate visitors on how to preserve the marine environment.

First-time visitors will be required to see a short video that discusses the cultural history of Hanauma Bay, the importance of protecting the wildlife, coral, fish and sea turtles, and water safety.

Many of the volunteers who work under makeshift conditions at the bay talking to visitors and providing information about the water, or even how to snorkel, are reserving judgment on the center.

"I'm going to wait until I see the finished product," said Bill Gurowitz, a volunteer for four years. "I think it will be just fine."