LIHU‘E — It was a rare honor for a Kaua‘i business when the Kaua‘i Historic County Building Restoration Project received the annual Award of Excellence at the General Contractors Association Build Hawai‘i Awards.
The organization’s top honor was for the category of Renovations and Remodeling. It was submitted by the general contractor, Shioi Construction Inc., in recognition of all the people involved in restoring a Kaua‘i landmark.
“As the larger part of the construction industry and membership of the GCA consists mainly of Honolulu-based contractors, it is rare that Kaua‘i projects and contractors are recognized,” said James Abeshima, executive vice president of Shioi Construction.
Built in 1913, Kaua‘i’s Historic County Building was the first county building built in the Territory of Hawai‘i. After a century of service, the effects of weathering and past attempts at modernization brought the future of the building into question.
Shioi won the $4.8 million restoration contract in March 2010. The work was completed on Aug. 9, 2011. The award was presented April 21 in Honolulu.
County Council Chair Jay Furfaro said the restoration was completed just as the Historic County Building celebrates it 100th anniversary on May 9. He called it the ultimate attraction for the capitol of Lihu‘e and the County of Kaua‘i.
“It has a very unique ‘Hawaiianness’ to it,” said Furfaro. “It was redeveloped in the guides and purposes of use for the building as it was used in the very beginning.”
Furfaro credited Mason Architecture, Shioi Construction, and the County project management team for an outstanding accomplishment. He said historical photographs, period furniture, fixtures and equipment are designed to reflect the island’s cultural and historical values.
“It is certainly a building that we can all stand proud of,” Furfaro said. “I am very pleased with the building and I know the people of Kaua‘i are just as pleased.”
The award was submitted by Shioi Construction and Abeshima called it a collaborative effort with county, the Historical Society and the Historic County Building Restoration Committee.
County Engineer Larry Dill said working with such an old structure is never easy, but that the entire construction team was “committed to creating a spectacular outcome regardless of the challenges.”
“They’ve achieved that goal, and I commend our architectural and design team, our contractors, the in-house personnel, the restoration committee and the Council who worked together to make this an historic building we can be proud of,” Dill said.
The Restoration Committee started in 1980 when the late Mayor Tony Kunimura and his wife Phyllis observed the effects from the damage of time and from modernization attempts in the 1960s. Phyllis said it was important to them to restore the county’s most significant building.
“It reminds us of our history and where this all started,” Kunimura said. “The restoration shows us how important it has been to Kaua‘i and how important it is to care for it.”
At the time the ceilings were lowered, the floors were covered in linoleum, fluorescent lightingwas installed and all the wood was painted. The large offices were remodeled into cubicles, and there was visible damage from pipe bombs set off at night to protest development of Nukoli‘i beach in the 1980s.
Attention to detail helped Shioi find ways to recreate the detail of ornate plaster and wood trim work with safer and more durable materials. Original windows and frames were replaced with energy-saving windows and wooden sashes for longer life.
The lobby, atrium and the original 1913 doors and hardware required extensive work to undo decades of patch work, paint-overs and makeshift repairs. Some areas were damaged beyond repair and had to be worked up from scratch using updated materials.
“Now they’ve got offices that you can be proud of and they can be proud to bring their constituents in to discuss things with them,” she said.
Phyllis said her husband’s 1959 ordinance that no building be taller than the tallest coconut tree, later clarified to mean 40 feet, was important to reining in the potential for high-rise development.
In the same way, she said, the County Building restoration is essential to preserving Kaua‘i’s heritage and as a way for people to take pride in their government.
“The people of Kaua‘i can feel proud that they are going into a building that is preserved and that has the feeling of grandeur it deserves for being the first building of county seat government and the only one still in use,” she said. “There are a lot of real special things about this county building.”
Three original committee members remain: Patricia Layosa, Phyllis Kunimura, and Robert Schleck, executive director of Grove Farm Museum.
The committee revisited the original designs of architect Clinton B. Ripley, who passed away in 1922.
They worked to identify original windows, doors, cane furniture and fixtures — and where to replicate them with code-compliant materials.
The effort was aided by the building’s designation as a National Historic site in 1981. In 1983, the committee received a $50,000 Hawai‘i Historical Preservation grant to restore the mayor’s office.
Mayor Kunimura then raised $75,000 from business and development friends, according to Phyllis. “He was very good at getting people to buy onto a project,” she said.
The Historic Hawai‘i Society Preservation Honor Awards Committee recognized the County of Kaua‘i and the Restoration Committee in 1996-97. They received a Preservation Commendation Award for continuing efforts since 1982 to bring the County Building up to code while being sensitive to the building’s historical aspects.
County Council Chair Mary Thronas in 1997 worked with the Council to repair leaks and refurbish furniture, said Phyllis. Work included the original Council table that is still used in the executive session room.
The original clock that was above the grand staircase had been removed during a modernization period. It now sits back on its perch.
Schleck secured the clock from Isonaga Yoniga, who kept it at his jewelry store. He repaired clocks and maintained the grandfather clock in perfect working order.
The major restoration moved forward after Capital Improvement Project bonds funded the project on a larger scale. Another $461,000 came from FEMA for hardening of the building.
Shioi was tasked with integrating state-of-the-art technology to be code-complient but without altering the original look of the building.
A new HVAC system meant eliminating dozens of window air conditioners, and improved lighting also cut costs with an energy management system.
Two veteran project managers, Val Tokuuke and Helito Caraang, supervised the project. Caraang focused on administrative, owner and design coordination responsibilities, while Tokuuke handled field issues and trade coordination.
Great care went into concealing new ductwork, piping and conduits in the 100-year-old building, Abeshima said. Many separate projects went on in phases with coordination of subcontractors working through unforeseen issues, sometimes with unconventional solutions.
“Being one of the oldest builders on Kaua‘i, we felt an obligation not just as general building contractors, but as preservationists and care-takers of Kaua‘i’s history,” Abeshima said. “Our goal was to bring the building back to what it used to be by meticulously restoring the place back to its original grandeur.”
Ensuring that expensive renovations won’t be needed soon was another challenge. Shioi used hurricane-resistant cornices and windows made of durable and lightweight materials that preserve the original look.
There were layers of led based paint, window openings with dimensional variations and structural honeycombing issues. These “extreme repairs” brought back a stable and consistent alignment of the building, according to the Shioi report.
Another factor to celebrate was that Shioi encountered no safety violations or injuries in the 1.5 year project.
Creative Partition Systems, a drywall and plaster company of Shioi Construction, also won the Award of Excellence in the Specialty Construction category for their work at the new Kona Airport Traffic Control Tower.
• Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or email@example.com.