Five years after eruption, rebuilding takes hold for USGS, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Jaggar Museum building was built in 1927. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory in 1985. Both are closed after the massive collapse of Halema'uma'u crater.
Published: May. 1, 2023 at 2:42 PM HST|Updated: May. 1, 2023 at 3:06 PM HST
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HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Thomas Jaggar Museum held a lot of memories for visitors to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

But the building on Uekahuna Bluff overlooking the Kilauea caldera will be coming down this summer, another casualty of the 2018 eruption.

The Jaggar Museum building was constructed in 1927, while the adjoining building that housed the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory was completed in 1985.

Both were closed during the massive collapse of Halemaumau crater at the the summit of Kilauea during the eruption.

The buildings and the ledge they were on were damaged by daily earthquakes emptied from the summit and the caldera settled.

Prior to 2018, the area was a prime spot to see the activity in Halemaumau.

“Yeah, that was a really unique place to observe the activity because our building was so close to the rim, so you had a clear unobstructed view of lava lake activity. So yeah, I felt like I had the best office because I could just look out my window and see the active lava lake,” said Matt Patrick, a geophysicist with the observatory.

“Being located so close to the edge of the worlds most, or one of the world’s most active volcanoes, had its advantages, but also its drawbacks,” said Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ranger Jessica Ferracane.

All that shaking took a toll, and just a month after the eruption began, wall displays and exhibit props, including artist Herb Kane’s iconic painting of Hawaiian fire goddess Pelehonuamea, were removed from the museum.

Both buildings were evacuated, as it turned out, forever.

“These two buildings will be coming down, and then once they are constructed, this area will instead be a lot more like its natural native landscape.” Ferracane said.

As for the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, “We’re here in the old ironworks building on the Hilo Bayfront. This is our temporary facility until the new facilities are built,” Patrick said.

Patrick and the HVO scientists are now more than 30 miles away from the summit at the temporary site, awaiting new facilities. They’re monitoring Kilauea, along with Mauna Loa and the other volcanoes in Hawaii, using webcams and an array of scientific sensors that are monitoring the mountains.

There’s also a whole roomful of exhibits and memorabilia from the old observatory building, waiting for a new home.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory was given nearly $60 million in eruption disaster relief funding from the federal government. It will use part of that money on two new facilities. One of them is a new office building on the U.H.-Hilo campus.

The other will be a new field office near the baseball field at the Kilauea Military Reservation, near the summit, but not right at the edge.

Construction on both facilities is expected to begin around this summer and take two years to complete.

Patrick is among those who can’t wait.

“That will allow us to do our field work and keep a close eye on the summit.

And once the old buildings are gone, “There will be a viewing platform, much like the one that’s at Jaggar now, but the landscaping will be native landscaping,” Ferracane said.

“There won’t be these big buildings right at the edge of the crater any longer.”