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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 10, 2010

Work to begin on West Hawaii homeless shelter

By Nancy Cook Lauer
West Hawaii Today

HILO, Hawaii -- Construction of West Hawaii's first emergency homeless shelter begins Monday, and officials say the long-awaited facility is still on track to open in June.

"I think we're going to be pretty close to the date," Housing Director Stephen Arnett said.

Bolton Inc., of Kailua-Kona, submitted the lowest bid of the 10 companies competing for the project. Its $1.5 million bid was higher than the county's $1.3 million estimate, but much lower than the $2.3 million submitted by the highest bidder.

"We worked hard to get it that low," Bolton Project Manager Bill Boswell said.

Boswell said his crews were at the site Friday scoping out the property to see how it matched with the surveys. He said Bolton just got the notice to proceed this week and has six months to complete the project.

"That's a little bit ambitious," Boswell said of the June target date, "but June or July they'll be looking at the finished project."

It's a sign of the economy that so many companies bid on the project, Bolton said, adding that many construction companies are "shifting their paradigms," because "private bids are pretty much dried up."

Funding is coming from federal, state and county sources. Some $819,000 was secured from federal special project grants. About $457,000 was appropriated from state capital improvement project funds and the county chipped in $500,000.

Ground was broken on the project in July, and Phase 1, the design phase, was completed in order to solicit the construction bids. At the time, Mayor Billy Kenoi said the project -- which originally had been planned for a December 2004 opening -- had been delayed while environmental studies were done to make sure the site was clear of hazardous substances.

The emergency housing facility and The Friendly Place will share 2 acres of county property that was formerly a wastewater treatment baseyard on Pawai Place. During the construction phase, The Friendly Place will be moved to a warehouse located at 74-5599 Alapa St. in the Old Industrial Area.

The West Hawaii Emergency Program Facility will be a 6,300-square-foot, single-story building that will accommodate 30 people.

It will have solar-heated showers, a laundry facility and a kitchen. Men and women will be housed in two separate 15-bed wings.

A procurement process will be conducted sometime midway through construction to determine who will operate the program and facility.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Honolulu's Office for Social Ministries' Executive Director Carol Ignacio said last summer the office will apply to become the facility's operator when it opens its doors. Social Ministries is contracted by the county to operate The Friendly Place, which has been open since September 2007.

Ignacio could not be reached for comment Friday.

Emergency housing program participants can use the facility for up to six weeks. The limit is imposed to reach the program's intent of stabilizing participants -- helping them find employment and affordable housing.

Office for Social Ministries' Homeless Program Administrator Brandee Menino said a January 2009 survey found 936 people were homeless on the Big Island.

"It's going to be a huge asset for the homeless in West Hawaii," Arnett said. "This is good news."