A draft environmental assessment published Tuesday has identified three possible sites for a new, and long-discussed, library in Pahoa.
Currently, Puna is served by three libraries, all co-located on public school campuses: the Keaau Public and School Library, Mountain View Public and School Library, and Pahoa Public and School Library.
That model was a design strategy in the 1960s, when the libraries were built, the EA states, but due to the nature of school security issues and growth in Puna, the Public Library System is looking to consolidate facilities off DOE land and create new libraries to support the region.
During the 2014 legislative session, state lawmakers appropriated $800,000 for a feasibility study and the initial phases of a regional library, the Tribune-Herald previously reported.
According to the EA, three initial community focus group meetings — one each in Keaau, Mountain View and Pahoa — were held in October 2015 to gauge public interest about a new regional library.
Based on feedback from the focus groups, the library system determined that two new libraries would be planned for Puna to adequately serve the growing needs of the district.
The library system “also determined that Pahoa should be the priority for the first library location due to their current space constraints and the high amount of usage of the library’s current location at Pahoa High School,” the EA read.
The preferred site, or Site 1, is on state-owned property near the Pahoa Fire Station and Driver Licensing Office, located off of Highway 130, approximately a quarter mile before the Pahoa Bypass Road roundabout.
Site 2 is located on county-owned property at the Pahoa District Park, near the Pahoa Community Center and adjacent to a residential housing development off Kauhale Street.
Site 3 is located on a highway-adjacent portion of a larger and currently vacant state-owned property, mauka of Highway 130 and about 1.5 miles north of Pahoa town.
According to the EA, six sites were selected by the Hawaii State Public Library System and evaluated as “good,” “fair” and “poor” based on a number of criteria, including the feasibility of acquisition, size, slope, access, adequacy of water service and waste water systems, and cost considerations, among other factors.
The top three sites received the highest number of “good” ratings and the fewest “poor” ratings.
The EA does not anticipate that a new facility will have a significantly adverse effect on the environment, and further consideration of the project’s impacts through the preparation of an environmental impact statement is not warranted.
“Development of this Pahoa Public Library will provide public benefits while resulting in minimal impacts to the surrounding environment,” the EA reads.
“I appreciate the state’s investment in this study and for the work done to narrow down potential locations for a Pahoa Public Library,” Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said in an email to the Tribune-Herald. “Libraries are a tool for community and economic development, and such a resource would have profound impact on the region. I welcome conversations with our state delegation on how we advance, given the dire economic straits we are in.”
Kierkiewicz said that any next steps to pursue a particular site must be done in partnership with community and in consultation with the county, especially departments whose operations might be affected by the construction of a library.
State Sen. Joy San Buenaventura, who represents Puna in the state Legislature, said she is both thrilled and hopeful now that the EA has been completed.
San Buenaventura said that much credit must go to former state Sen. Russell Ruderman, who did not seek re-election last year but had championed for a library before she took over his Senate seat.
“It’s a shame he retired before it has moved as far as it has, but it looks like his legacy will continue,” she said.
And despite the fact the state is facing a large budget deficit due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, San Buenaventura said there’s a big push from the Legislature to “push out” infrastructure projects.
“I am hoping this is one infrastructure (project) the government can fund despite the economic setback, because we’ve been waiting for it for a long time,” she said.
Construction costs are estimated in the EA to be more than $11 million.
The new library also would help the Puna economy recover from the pandemic and the 2018 Kilauea eruption by offering the district a public facility with broadband internet infrastructure, she said.
The new Pahoa library is proposed to include 8,000 square feet of enclosed, air-conditioned interior space and 1,000 square feet of an indoor-outdoor lanai activity area.
The EA can be found online at bit.ly/PahoaLibraryEA. A statutory 30-day public review and comment period is underway. Comments are due by March 25.
Comments may be emailed to [email protected]
Email Stephanie Salmons at [email protected]