PAHALA, Hawaii: An expected Finding of No Significant Impact has been published in the final environmental assessment for the big Ka’u gym and disaster shelter.
The project will be located on the site of the now open, grassy field next to Ka‘ū High and Pahala Elementary School. The facility will be jointly used by the school and the community and managed by the County Department of Parks & Recreation.
Officials say the facility “will be designed as a hurricane and vog shelter for an area that is the most vulnerable in the State to vog and where the existing shelter does not meet minimum hurricane shelter criteria. The existing gym is old and too small for the wide range of athletic, school assembly, and community needs.”
According to the introductory description in the EA document:
The Ka‘ū District Gym & Shelter will: 1) provide improved and more diverse athletic and recreational opportunities to a larger residential community in Ka‘ū for school and community use; 2) provide a more adequate and larger meeting and gathering place for the school and community; 3) provide an adequate shelter to ensure residents are protected during the event of a natural disaster; and 4) provide a congregate shelter to aid in the post-disaster recovery process.
As you can see in the floor plan of the two building complex (right), the gym will take up the majority of the structure’s footprint, with main athletic courts surrounded by rooms for various purposes. There is also a smaller, ancillary building with a multi-purpose room, connected to the main gym by an exterior courtyard.
According to the Ka’u Calendar, which has followed the planning process from the beginning, the Final EA “shows increased capacity as a shelter, expanding total shelter space by 1,575 square feet. The Draft EA called for shelter for 1,500 people, while the Final EA says the complex will serve 1,928 people during such emergencies as hurricanes.”
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Representative Bob Herkes, who pushed for the funds for the project at the state legislature, was not entirely happy with the some aspects of the project. In March, Herkes spoke bluntly about the vog protection capabilities of the new gym and shelter in this interview (right). Many residents shared his concern. Vog is the primary health threat to the folks in Pahala, who live downwind of the active Kilauea volcano and its un-ending SO2 emissions.
The document addresses the question of vog capacity in this common response to the many questions on the matter:
Julia Neal of the Ka’u Calendar reports:
The Final EA also shows increased capacity as a vog shelter. The Draft EA called for the air-conditioned multi-purpose room to be 2,000 square feet with a capacity to hold 120 people. The Final EA increases the size to 2,894 square feet with a capacity to shelter 192 people. Along with this room, the Final EA also calls for the recreation room within the main structure to have an air filtration system that would provide shelter from vog for another 125 people. Total capacity as a vog shelter is 317 persons. The Final EA says “the gym main floor area may not meet the true requirements of a vog mitigated room, however any entrance into the gym has at minimum a vestibule to help keep vog out of the gym area and may serve as an area for people to go who do not have severe reactions to the vog.”
The Final EA calls for four more parking spaces than the Draft EA, for a total of 163 spaces. It also states that a zoning variance has been submitted to reduce the number of paved parking spaces and to allow grass parking.
Contractor bids are expected to go out later this month.