A treasured gym’s looming demolition puts a rural Big Island community on edge

A rural Big Island community is rallying to save a treasured, near-century-old piece of its history.
Published: Apr. 19, 2022 at 4:45 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 19, 2022 at 4:51 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A rural Big Island community is rallying to save a treasured piece of its history.

The Papaaloa gym is set to be demolished soon.

But for the town’s residents, the structure isn’t just a rec center or baseball field. Rather, it’s a community hub that’s had a widespread impact.

“I’ve played basketball, I played baseball, I did boxing and we did free play in the gyms and parties here,” said Papaaloa resident Ethan Gadd.

While the 1930s-era structure is charming, it has major problems.

“All the lead paint and the holes in the floor, there’s termites,” said Papaaloa resident Lily Hubbard, who played a number of youth sports at the gym.

“It’s not very good, the bathrooms are kind of gross too.”

For the last two years, the gym’s been shut down.

After initially closing due to the pandemic, officials determined the flaws required a rebuild.

“The current gym sits on an area that has a very dramatic slope,” Hawaii County Parks and Recreation Director Maurice Messina said. “So we’re not sure if the facility can be placed back there or if we have to find another area. It’s gonna be large. It’s gonna require a lot of funding.”

The county will need roughly upwards of $20 million, which is funding that requires a long approval process.

The price is also high because officials say a new facility would likely double as a disaster-relief site.

“We do not have a hurricane-rated shelter,” Messina said. “We have a lot of post-impact facilities, but nothing for the community to really go in and hunker down when these high wind events come in.”

Right now, the closest recreation center is 20 miles away in Hilo, so residents want the proposal put at the top of the county’s priority list for a gathering place that’ll last another century and beyond.

“You know Laupahoehoe is a small community — we have a gas station, we have a store and a restaurant and that’s about it,” said Roy Valera, a Hamakua Coast activities volunteer.

“It’s my hope that something is built in its place, so that we continue a sense of community and a place to gather for the whole community.”

Copyright 2022 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.