To Build, But Not Maintain

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 05, 2006
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It seems like just yesterday that politicians were searching for reasons to save the Waikiki Natatorium as it crumbles on the beach in Waikiki. The city has been monitoring the deteriorating structure, and has posted signs and erected barriers to keep people out.

Lost in the dialogue between the warring groups is a simple fact: The Waikiki Natatorium is a war memorial to 101 Hawaii residents who died in Europe during World War I. It was intended to honor their sacrifice to the country, and it was allowed to crumble slowly, but deliberately.

The way this happens in the political arena is by repeatedly delaying action, which in the long run represents permanent denial.

The fate of the 79-year-old memorial has been debated for decades. The intended consequence is simple. Any support for the restoration of the natatorium has crumbled. The probable death blow to the memorial came in February 2005, when newly elected Mayor Hannemann said “We’ve suspended work on the Waikiki Natatorium to save us from having to pour more good money after bad.”


It’s almost hard to believe, but the city is expected to hire a planning consultant to consider the future of the natatorium again.

But this is not a column about restoring the Waikiki Natatorium. It’s about a simple concept called planned maintenance. This is not a revolutionary concept in bureaucratic planning. It is older than the natatorium. If you build something for the public with their tax dollars, make sure you can maintain it over the long term or don’t build it.

Public planning must be long term and not based on what party the mayor represents or how much money there is in the public’s piggy bank.

How can anyone argue for spending any amount of taxpayer dollars on something they have no intention of maintaining over the long haul?

The public swimming pool in Waipahu is another current example. The pool is only 12 years old, and is closed for at least two summers, and will cost at least $1.1 million to repair, if it can be repaired. The problem here is a ruptured pipe caused by soil settlement. In 2004, four city swimming pools were closed because of questions over the workmanship in tiling the decking around the pool.

It’s difficult to get a clear picture of this kind of bureaucratic neglect actually happening, until right now. If you want to see firsthand what it looks like, take a ride down the new Waimalu Viaduct. It cost $60 million to construct one lane of freeway, 1.5 miles long. That’s not the picture. When you drive by either way, ewa or diamondhead, look at the landscaping on the shoulders of the freeway: green grass, palm trees, colorful hedges, all nicely manicured. Once you see that, look quickly to the shoulders on the other side of the freeway. They are almost solid red dirt, the grass is dead or dying and there are no healthy trees or shrubs to speak of.

The question is, what happened? What happened is incremental neglect over a couple of years. Lawmakers raiding the highway fund is the political answer, because there are no funds for maintenance.


So as you drive by, watch the maintained shoulders of the new addition to the Waimalu Freeway turn brown and die a slow death. It will take a couple of years, but it will happen- just like the Waikiki Natatorium and the Waipahu public swimming pool.

It seems they are all crumbling for the same reason - there is no one to hold accountable for the poor maintenance programs. All we can hope for is the incumbent to blame his predecessor for failing the public interest and perpetuating a dismal pattern of predictable neglect.

If our governmental leaders cannot learn the frugality of a planned maintenance program for small taxpayer-sponsored faculties, what is going to happen when they start spending billions of dollars on a rail system?

What’s going to happen after we spend billions of dollars on upgrading our crumbling sewer system?

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