House approves $55M for Kona Judiciary Complex

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A $55 million appropriation to build a new judiciary complex in North Kona has cleared the state House of Representatives.

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A $55 million appropriation to build a new judiciary complex in North Kona has cleared the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 290 — the single largest item in the state’s entire capital improvements budget — cleared the Committee on Finance unanimously Wednesday afternoon. The legislation must now pass through committees on the Senate side.

“There is a lot of movement behind it,” said Rep. Nicole Lowen, D-Kailua-Kona, who sits on the committee. “It helped to have the state bar association testify that conditions at the courthouse have been really bad. Construction costs are on the rise, and it’s become a more dire situation at the courthouse. The time to act is now.”

The $55 million comprises the remaining portion needed to build the three-story, 143,000-square foot Kona Judiciary Complex in Keahuolu, following $26 million in funding appropriated last last year and $9 million the year before.

Robert Kim, a Kealakekua attorney speaking on behalf of the West Hawaii Bar Association, said it’s a major step that the full amount of the request has been approved by one of the chambers.

“We really want to thank Chairwoman Sylvia Luke for supporting the project and keeping it alive in tough fiscal times,” Kim said. “Once they put this project together, $90 million in construction money will really help the economy of Kona.”

Court proceedings in West Hawaii are currently held at three separate locations that were not designed for that function — shortcomings that were highlighted in late January when belligerent detainees in a holding cell at the Keakealani Building in Kealakekua were able to disrupt a nearby courtroom with noise, causing proceedings to be canceled for an hour.

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The aging building was originally a hospital. The Kona Circuit Court and Kona Drug Court at Halekii Street also suffer space, capacity and infrastructure issues.

The preliminary design for the project includes five courtrooms, conference rooms, law library, a self-help center and 300 parking spaces on the 10-acre parcel mauka of Queen Kaahumanu Highway near Makala Boulevard. The bidding process is scheduled for the end of this year, with groundbreaking set for the fall of 2016 and completion targeted for spring of 2019.

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