HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The estimates for fixing the leaking, algae-plagued and occasionally stinky reflecting pools at the State Capitol are so high that state officials are asking whether they should remove the water from the ponds in a re-design.
The state estimates it spends $75,000 a year on three maintenance workers who spend about half their shift wet-vacuuming algae and fish droppings from the pools which suffer from bad circulation.
Now state officials predict it will cost about $10 million for a major renovation of the pool complex.
"That means completely draining it, taking out all of the infrastructure, down to the support steel and concrete,” said Christine Kinimaka, section head of the planning branch in the public works division at the Department of Accounting and General Services, which oversees state buildings. “And repairing the spalling conditions that are leaking into the spaces below."
The price-tag has doubled since 2005, so some people like State Sen Will Espero say the state should consider removing the water from the ponds.
"We're going to have the potential of leakage always, into the parking lot. Whether it's five years from now, ten years from now, 15 years from now and then we're going to have to fix it again," said Espero, who chairs the Senate public safety committee.
DAGS, the department that manages state buildings, asked the State Historic Preservation Division if it could remove the water from the pools as part of renovations.
As an example, it pointed to an artistic mosaic-like project in the former swimming pool at No. 1 Capitol District, the old armed services YMCA across the street from the Capitol, which was part of a $1.6 million courtyard renovation.
But the historic preservation office said the water in the Capitol pools has to stay.
"Because this is a historic facility, the pools are defined as a character-defining element of the State Capitol," Kinimaka said.
The state could appeal the decision on keeping water in the pools all the way up to Gov. David Ige.
State lawmakers have not approved any funding for construction of renovations to the pools, so any major fix is years away. The last significant funding came in 2002, when DAGS received $360,000 in design funds, Kinimaka said.
The former administration of Gov. Linda Lingle asked lawmakers for $7.9 million to fund repairs to the pools in 2007, a request that the Legislature did not approve.
Kinimaka said the state is ready to design a request for proposals from contractors for the renovation job.
Even though crews clean the pools daily, it still smells from time to time and chunks of algae are visible in the corners of the pools.
“We're talking about a pool, a pool that's leaking and it's costing the state millions and millions of dollars, let alone it stinks all to hell," Espero said.
The pools were originally designed as part of the air conditioning system, Kinimaka said, but they didn't have recirculation in all the nooks and crannies to filter the water appropriately, causing occasional odors.
Water for the pools comes from brackish wells on the Capitol grounds.
"That only makes the water more nutrient rich for all the fish that people keep throwing in, and that doesn't help. People think throwing fish in the pools gets rid of the algae. It actually makes it worse, because their poop is worse than the algae,” Kinimaka said.
She said a renovation project would re-do the circulation in the pools and make them shallower and easier and cheaper to maintain.
People Hawaii News Now spoke to at the Capitol supported keeping water in the pools, even though that comes at a high cost.
"Having this water inside gives a soothing kind of effect so I think people would prefer having it instead of considering the overhead costs," said Russell Honma of Hawaii Kai.