Center conversion to police substation a bad idea

I attended the meeting Thursday, Sept. 8, at the Kapaa Armory held to discuss the proposed conversion of the Kapaa Armory into a Neighborhood Center and the conversion of the existing Kapaa Neighborhood Center into a Kauai Police Department substation. The meeting was hosted by Parks and Recreation Director Lenny Rapozo.

It was clear from the beginning of the meeting from Mr. Rapozo’s remarks that this proposed change is actually a “done deal.” The meeting was not to gain public approval, but to introduce the public to the facility and start the process of determining community needs.

We were told that KPD has long since outgrown the 400-square-foot Kapaa substation adjacent to Kapaa Beach Park, closed since 2013. The move to the 900-square-foot office space in the Kapa’a Armory was always intended to be a temporary move while the county sought a more permanent home for an expanded substation. We were told that moving the KPD substation to the existing Kapaa Neighborhood Center would allow the county to create a much larger sports and neighborhood facility at the Armory, adjacent to Kapaa Town Park.

What we were not told at that time was that this proposal to move the substation to the current Kapaa Neighborhood Center was not initiated, or supported, by the Kauai Police Department. This is a solution being forced upon the KPD by the county administration, without significant public discussion or review by the Kauai County Council.

In response to my original letter to the mayor and the members of the council, Council Chair Mel Rapozo and Council Member Mason Chock have initiated formal requests to the administration to clarify just what those plans are, what the timeline for the project may be, and where the funding is coming from. Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura has also expressed interest in this issue and is closely following the discussion.

In October of 2013, almost three years ago, an $83,910 contract was awarded by the County to Honolulu-based consulting firm Architects Hawaii Limited, awarded in (TGI, “Substation spruce up,” Tuesday, Nov 19, 2013) to develope a plan for a replacement Kapaa substation.

Their 122-page Site Assessment and Programming Report submitted in 2014 listed four potential options; demolish and completely rebuild the Armory, overhaul the existing Armory structure, build a new substation at a site adjacent to the Kapaa Middle School, or build a new substation at a site adjacent to Mahelona Hospital.

KPD Chief of Police Darryl Perry has stated his support for building a new substation at the Mahelona site because of costs, communications and accessibility advantages, and the fact that it is not located in the flood inundation and Tsunami zones — a definite advantage for a “first responder” location.

What their report did not recommend was to take over the existing Kapaa Neighborhood Center, adjacent to the multi-use path and nestled between the Kapaa Community Swimming Pool and the Makai Ola Health Clinic, build a 10-foot high wall around it, and reconfigure it as the KPD substation.

I, along with my wife and many other community members attend classes at the Community Center on a weekly basis. I love looking out the windows toward the beach as we exercise, seeing the ocean and people passing on the multi-use path; feeling the cool ocean breeze as we sweat through yoga, zumba, Pilates or any of the other many classes taught at the facility. It is a beautiful environment, accessible by car, bicycle, or The Kauai Bus.

The Armory, on the other hand, is isolated on dead-end Kahau Road, adjacent to Kapaa Town Park; No view, no ocean breeze, and no convenient bus stop. During Wednesday’s Sunshine Market it becomes almost inaccessible. Instead of the peaceful sounds of the ocean, you have the industrial noises from busy neighbor Esaki’s Produce.

The Armory building itself is essentially a large warehouse building with 20-foot high cement walls with small windows up near the ceiling, a hot corrugated steel roof, harsh industrial lighting, and little or no ventilation — and what ventilation is available only exists when the large industrial garage door in the end of the building is open. The office areas on the sides of the center warehouse area at least have windows at eye level, but still without a view or significant air flow. The noise from Esaki’s guarantees that most classes would be taught with the windows closed.

During the meeting Director Lenny Rapozo was asked why the KPD could not “share” the existing Kapaa Neighborhood Center facility with its current users. We were told that the KPD cannot share facilities.

When KPD officers bring in an arrestee, possibly dangerous, it is important that no civilians be potentially placed in danger in case the arrestee becomes violent. I then asked, that being the case, why relocate the substation from an isolated dead-end road to a facility in the heart of Kapaa, adjacent to the swimming pool, a health center, and the very popular multi-use path? Mr. Rapozo’s answer was largely about how the Kapaa community deserved a much larger neighborhood center, and this swap of facilities could provide that.

During the meeting, Director Rapozo also noted that the side office area was originally an indoor target shooting range when the facility was in use by the National Guard. It was latter reconfigured, using wood partitions and walls, into separate office areas. He could not tell us if the facility has ever been inspected or evaluated for toxic levels of lead contamination from it’s years of use as an indoor range. This is a serious issue with indoor shooting ranges nationwide. As we know from the recent lead contaminated water scandal in Flint, Michigan, lead contamination is nothing to take lightly. Mr. Rapozo’s only comment was “You won’t find any bullets in the walls.”

The Kapaa Neighborhood Center is a wonderful facility for seniors and residents of all ages to enjoy a lovely oceanside respite from their day, while performing healthy and beneficial activities. The Kapaa Armory, located as it is adjacent to the Kapaa Town Park, has potential as an indoor sports facility for our youth.

It could be an appropriate new facility for the largest and fastest-growing population center on the island. Rather than turn the existing lovely neighborhood center into a police substation surrounded by an ugly 10-foot wall, why not build the KPD the purpose-built sub-station they deserve in an appropriate location and then convert the Armory into a sports facility?

This will of course require an investment of taxpayer funds. But it is an investment in the future of our police, our keiki, and our kupuna. It is an investment I think we all could get behind. It is certainly a subject that deserves a full and public discussion.

•••

Bill Peterson is a resident of Kapaa.

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