KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery at Kaneohe is finally getting a set of public restrooms, 22 years after it opened, Hawaii News Now has learned.
About 9,000 people are buried at the cemetery that opened in 1991.
People who visit the cemetery have had limited access to restrooms for more than two decades.
There are public bathrooms in the administration building, but that's only open weekdays during the day. It is closed nights, weekends and state holidays like Tuesday, Kamehameha Day, when cemetery traffic tends to be the busiest.
The only other options are two porta-potties outside the administration building.
That is not an ideal situation, admits the director of the Office of Veterans Services, Ron Han.
"There's been no bathroom facilities out there. We've had to use porta-potties and other things. It's been very, very inconvenient," Han said.
So the state is finally constructing a restroom building in the middle of the cemetery. Preliminary water and sewer line work is already under way and the project should be completed by November, Han said.
"It's a great thing," said Kamuela Kepo'o of Kalihi, who visits the grave site of his mother with his brother George nearly every day. Kamuela Kepo'o was decorating his mother's grave with a lei worn by the horse he rode in a pa'u unit in this past Saturday's Kamehameha Day parade.
"I think keeping the bathroom away from here is keeping the people from coming and bringing the whole crowd," Kepo'o said.
He said some local families spend hours or even most of the day here.
"And local people, when they come they bring the whole family, yeah? Food and all," Kepo'o said.
He said the lack of restrooms has been particularly difficult for the cemetery's many elderly visitors.
"It's a hard thing for them. Because if not, they have to either drive or take a stroll to the nearest (porta) pottie, which is right down the road," Kepo'o said.
The U.S. Veterans Affairs department is footing the $1.1 million bill for the new restrooms. The money as will pay for expansion of the administration building, doubling the size of the room where families meet with cemetery officials to plan burial services.
"A long-time coming," Han said. "Hopefully those bathrooms will also remain open on weekends. So folks can use those instead of using the porta-pottie."
Last year, the state had to spend $29,000 replacing the water pump at and water service was out at about two-thirds of the Kaneohe cemetery for months.
Now, the new water system has created higher water pressure and two pipes have burst at the cemetery.
"We got so much great water pressure and now the pipes that are out there have to go through a lot of changes now. And they weren't made to last over 20 years. Some of them are made from PVC," Han said.
The next project will be to improve the cemetery's entire infrastructure, including its water pipes, Han said.
"We want to make sure it's fixed not just for the short term, but for the long term," Han added.
The Veterans Administration is also funding $5.3 million for a 10-acre expansion and improvements at Maui Veterans Cemetery. And the VA is spending another $1.2 million building a maintenance facility and making other improvements to the Kauai Veterans Cemetery.