Kapaa center to stay

LIHUE — Public outcry and financial constraints led the county on Wednesday to end plans to convert the Kapaa Neighborhood Center into a police substation and move the center to the Kapaa Armory.

“I’ve been using the center, and to me, it’s sacred and should be kept,” said Alan Kapali.

The proposal was met with opposition from kupuna and other groups who use the center for daily classes and activities. Officials said the cost to convert the buildings could be as much as $5 million.

“I saw this as an opportunity to expand something in the Kapaa community. Currently, at the Kapaa Neighborhood Center, we are restricted not only by size, but in the amount the services we can offer there,” said Lenny Rapozo, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. “Realizing this was going to happen in December, I saw it was a need to quickly get in the community and to see what the process would be to secure the armory.”

Because the armory on Kahau Road is twice the size of the current neighborhood center, the county would be able to provide more services, he added.

But many balked at having their community programs at the armory, a location they saw as inconvenient and uncomfortable. A crowd showed up at Wednesday’s council meeting to voice their concerns.

Councilman Mel Rapozo said he put the item on the agenda at the request of councilmembers Mason Chock and JoAnn Yukimura.

There were communication issues, both between the administration and the council and the administration and the public, Yukimura said. Furthermore, the council was never informed about the possible plans, she said.

“The council was totally out of the loop, and all we were getting was feedback from the community and this was going to happen,” Yukimura said. “The armory brings up a lot of potential opportunities. But I think the way it was communicated, the lack of briefing to the council, created a lot of upset and concern.”

Kauai Police Department entered an agreement with the Department of Defense to use the armory as a substation in 2013, after moving from their location at Kapaa Beach Park. It was always meant to be a temporary move, and the agreement expired earlier this year.

After two community meetings, Kapaa residents said it sounded like the plan to convert the neighborhood center to a police substation was a done deal. But on Wednesday, Lenny Rapozo said the idea was never set in stone; he just wanted to ensure the armory would be in hands of the county.

Yukimura said the efforts should have gone to acquiring the armory for the county, not changing the existing uses of the buildings.

“Time is of the essence to secure the building, we all agree on that. But it wasn’t time is of the essence to make this plan happen,” she said.

The county is moving forward with obtaining the armory building from the Department of Defense, Lenny Rapozo said.

In a perfect world, KPD will build its own, separate substation, and the armory will be used as an additional community facility, perhaps for sporting events, too.

“The potential of the armory as a sports complex is immense,” said Kapaa resident Bill Peterson. “It’s a great opportunity for Kapaa and the youth sports programs.”

Marilyn Haugh, vice president of the Kapaa Neighborhood Center, said it’s disturbing that it seems like the needs of the Kauai Police Department are being slighted.

“The Kawaihau District is the biggest district on the island, and it seems like the county doesn’t value them because they keep moving around,” she said.

It’s a sentiment Councilman Gary Hooser echoed.

“The police in that substation seem to be treated as second-class citizens,” Hooser said. “They were put up in some shack at Kapaa Beach Park, and they get shuffled around from here to there. It’s time this county recognize the importance of establishing a proper substation for the Kawaihau District.”

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