LIHU‘E — The old Lihu‘e Courthouse has sat empty for years, but if Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s wishes come true in the next legislative session the more than 80-year-old building may once again serve the state.
Abercrombie took office on Dec. 6, and since then his administration has been looking at things they want to “fix in government,” said Donalyn DelaCruz, a spokeswoman for the governor. “This is one of the things we wanted to fix in government.”
Once the new state comptroller, Bruce Coppa, came aboard, the administration “saw all these different buildings that belong to the state but are not in use,” DelaCruz said Monday. “Our goal is to make sure they will be, but they all need to be renovated, including the Lihu‘e Courthouse building.”
However, it may be awhile until the building — which is on the national and state registers of historic places — gets a facelift.
Because of the historic designations, the building’s renovation will have to follow certain renovation guidelines to preserve its
historic character, she said.
While the project is deemed “a priority,” DelaCruz said, it has to go before the state Legislature next year for funding and approval.
Right now, she said, there’s no estimate on how much the state will spend renovating the building. The courthouse renovation is part of a broader project involving many buildings statewide, but DelaCruz was unable to say exactly how many buildings the administration is looking at renovating and using.
Running on empty
When the $42 million Judiciary complex on Kapule Highway in Lihu‘e was dedicated in August 2005, the old courthouse sat empty for more than two years.
It became a homeless shelter in November 2007, under a contract with Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity, but the shelter closed its doors in November 2009.
The homeless used the old courthouse’s porch to set up living quarters until this week, when state workers started boarding up the place, apparently to block people from sleeping and loitering there.
Old KPD headquarters
Across the street from the old Lihu‘e Courthouse, the former Kaua‘i Police Department headquarters has also sat empty for years. The building — “unsafe” and in “disrepair” — will be demolished, DelaCruz said.
“Apparently, it contains hazardous building material,” said DelaCruz, who was unable to identify which types of hazardous materials.
The building space will become an employee parking and metered public parking lot for the Lihu‘e Health Center building, the old Lihu‘e Courthouse and the state office building, she said.
The project is still in its initial planning stages, and there’s no set date to start, but DelaCruz said it will cost between $500,000 and $800,000.
The old Lihu‘e Courthouse, together with the Historic County Building and the County Building Annex, make up the Lihu‘e Civic Center Historic District, designated on Sept. 21, 1981 as a historic site by the Hawai‘i Register, and on Dec. 17, 1981 by the National Register.
Lihu‘e Town dates from the late 1830s, when then-governor of Kaua‘i, Kaikioewa, “moved his home from the traditional seat of government, Waimea, to the hilly lands overlooking Nawiliwili Bay,” according to the National Register. From then on Lihu‘e served as the center of island government.
In 1851 a frame courthouse — long gone — was built there.
Following annexation, the Territorial government passed the County Act in 1905, which established county governments on the four largest islands.
Lihu‘e became the county seat of Kaua‘i, where commissioners held monthly meetings in the 1851 courthouse, until the County Building was built in 1913, according to the National Register.
Next to that building is the County Annex Building, built in 1930 as the Territorial Office Building.
The Courthouse Building was built in 1938. It was originally planned to be built in the park in front of the County Building, but after a public outcry against the chosen location, the building was built behind the County Annex Building, by Umi Street, according to the National Register.
• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.