Video by David Corrigan | Voice of Stephanie Salazar

PAHALA, Hawaii: A big moment for the community in Pahala on Wednesday. A ground breaking and blessing for the long awaited Ka‘ū District Gym & Shelter.

About 150 people – including the students, teachers and administrators of Ka’u High – were on hand for the groundbreaking.

So was State Representative Bob Herkes – who, over the many years has fought hard in the state legislature to get to this moment.

Also joining in on the big day: State Senator Gil Kahele, Mayor Billy Kenoi, and Governor Neil Abercrombie.

Uncle Bobby Gomes, a well-respected member of the community, was called upon by Sharon Beck, Ka‘ū High and Pāhala Elementary School principal, to bless the area.

The 43,000 square foot gymnasium and multi-purpose facility will be situated upon approximately five acres of the high school’s campus.

It is a state and county joint-funded effort, managed by the County of Hawaii and is the result of collaborative planning design effort among the community.

Guy Enriques, a well known volleyball coach and former county councilman serving the district, has been there from the beginning.

The gym will have three NCAA regulation basketball courts (or, NCAA regulation volleyball courts) with retractable athletic curtains between each court to allow for simultaneous multisport use with minimal disruptions.

Accessory spaces include a certified kitchen with concession counters; ticket windows; meeting room; a community recreation room; interior and exterior public restrooms; two sets of locker/shower rooms; DOE Athletic Trainer’s office, conference room and training room; Parks and Recreation staff office; an American Red Cross emergency supplies room; and miscellaneous storage and support rooms.

The county gymnasium and multipurpose facility are both designed to meet the Enhanced Hurricane Protection Area classification for hurricane shelters; its performance objective is to remain operational during and after a 500 to 100-year hurricane event, or a Category 3 Hurricane with 155 mph peak gusts. The two structures will be capable of serving 1,928 individuals as a shelter though it is anticipated that more could be accommodated when necessary.

When vog conditions in the area reach a level of concern, the facilities will serve as a designated vog shelter featuring a specialized air filtration system that can accommodate 325 persons for extended periods. More people may be accommodated if necessary for shorter duration stays.

Enriques played a role in the shaping of the project, as did many in the community, during these public charrettes held in Pahala at the end of 2012.

And if Enriques ever finds himself or his volleyball team caught up in another emergency – like he did in earlier this year when a large brushfire broke out and forced evacuations in Pahala, he and his players will now have a safe place to go.

Construction for the $17 million Ka‘ū District Gym & Shelter is scheduled to begin in 30 days.