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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2003

Third-graders petition to save Wailuku pool

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

WAILUKU, Maui — Third-graders at Wailuku Elementary School are mounting a petition drive to save a small public pool where generations of island children learned to swim.

The students are urging the county to buy the Old Wailuku Pool site at the corner of Wells and Market streets to keep it from being developed into an office building, and they've written letters to the mayor, the governor and Maui County Council members.

For many years, about 150 Wailuku third-graders annually have walked to the pool four days a week over a six-week period to participate in an American Red Cross learn-to-swim program taught by county lifeguards. Nearby '?ao Intermediate School also uses the pool for physical education classes, and it is popular on weekends and during the summer with kids who live nearby.

"A lot of kids have learned to swim through that program," said Wailuku third-grade teacher Eva Kaneshina. "The children really enjoy it. That's why they were so eager to take home those petitions. They want the other kids who will be coming up to the third grade to have the same experience."

The Old Wailuku Pool was built before World War II, and at one time was part of the Alexander House recreation center frequented by servicemen stationed on Maui during the war years. In past times, it also was just about the only source of recreation for neighborhood kids, including retired county lifeguard Jojo Apo, who has taught swimming to thousands of children over the past 40-plus years.

Apo said she used to swim in the pool as a child almost every day. "That's all we had until we were old enough to play basketball," she said. "Even now around 5 o'clock in the afternoon on weekends you see the kids walking home with their towels around their necks and they're all tired."

Apo and Wailuku third-grade teacher Anne Summers said the pool is a vital resource for the community, especially because many families can't afford to pay for swimming lessons or other enrichment programs.

"They can't afford tennis rackets or tennis shoes. With swimming all you need is a swimsuit ... " Apo said. "The owner has every right to sell it. What we want is for the county to buy the property back for the kids."

The Old Wailuku Pool site was owned by the county before it traded the property in 1984 for one of equal size across the street to use as parking for the Wells Park tennis courts. The county has been leasing the pool lot for $1 a month from the new owner, Market Wells Hui II LLC, which is made up of several local families.

As part of the deal, the hui agreed to pay the county $50,000 for a study to build a new heated pool to accommodate the elderly and the disabled on county-owned land just a few steps away from the old pool. That pool opened about a decade ago but it is only three feet deep, Apo said.

Market Wells Hui II manager Clifford Beppu said that after years of allowing the county to use the land at minimal cost, he was approached last year by a company that wanted the hui to develop an office building on the pool site so it could lease space there. Beppu said the hui offered the county first crack at purchasing the property for $1 million — $700,000 cash, which was the appraised value, plus a $300,000 tax credit.

The offer was made to the former administration, with a deadline of July 31 to exercise the purchase option. Beppu said he reiterated the offer to the new administration and is awaiting a response. County officials could not be reached yesterday to find out if they are considering the deal.

Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson, head of the Parks and Agriculture Committee, was unaware the county had been offered a chance to buy the pool. She said the county is running low on park acquisition money, and there are other properties that may be more desirable.

If the Old Wailuku Pool closes, Wailuku and '?ao teachers said they'll have to drop swimming from their curriculum.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.