LIHUE — Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall is scheduled to be closed six months starting Jan. 1 for removal of asbestos-laced floor tiles as well as for new flooring and ceramic tile installation, according to a county press release on Tuesday.
“The closure is unfortunate, however, we appreciate the public’s patience as the project is part of the county’s effort to provide quality customer service,” said Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. “We look forward to reopening the facility once upgrades and renovations are complete.”
The state Department of Health found asbestos in the tile flooring of the facility in November 2016 after an employee, Charles Rapozo, brought it to the department’s attention.
A lawsuit alleging the county retaliated against Rapozo for reporting the asbestos was served to the county, also on Tuesday.
The lawsuit is said to describe how he has not been allowed to do his job at the convention hall, and spends hours each day sitting in his vehicle outside the convention hall. He was allowed to clean the bathrooms.
The county confirmed the lawsuit was served and said it had no comment on it late Tuesday.
Rapozo declined to comment when contacted by TGI on Tuesday.
A message left Tuesday evening by TGI at the law office of Richard Wilson on Oahu, reportedly representing Rapozo, was not returned.
Rapozo, who has been cleaning the hall’s floors for nearly 20 years, previously said he became concerned about asbestos over a decade ago when people came to him with concerns about the conditions of the tiles.
Over the years, Rapozo said his suspicions grew. And in October 2016, he sent pieces of the tile to a lab on Oahu.
“I feared for my safety and the public’s safety. I see kids crawling on the ground of the hall,” he said in a Feb. 2 TGI article. “When the test came back positive, I was hoping and praying I did it wrong.”
He contacted DOH, which came to Kauai a few days later to do an inspection.
“I’m very concerned about what’s going on in the convention hall,” County Council Chair Mel Rapozo was quoted as saying by TGI at the meeting. “It’s heavily used, and I just want to make sure the public is aware. I have yet to see a public warning.”
At that February meeting, Lenny Rapozo, director of the county Department of Parks & Recreation, said the chance of anyone being exposed to asbestos was low, so it wasn’t necessary to close the hall. He said he spoke to the DOH.
At that meeting, Lenny Rapozo presented a remediation plan that would cost about $450,000 to replace the tile flooring.
The contractors involved with the roughly $181,000 project are Pacific Concrete Coring &Cutting, Inc and Creative Partition Systems. The scope will be to remove asbestos-laced floor tiles from the building, install new floor tiles, and also install new ceramic tiles on the kitchen walls to enhance cleanliness and maintenance.
Asbestos is a commercial name given to six naturally occurring fibrous minerals, according to the Centers for Disease Control. While these minerals have been used for decades in products such as insulation, textiles and wallboard materials, the CDC says people chronically exposed to asbestos have developed diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.