HONOKAA — Jan. 20 was a day Honokaa High School (HHS) staff and students had long awaited — the day when all team practices, games and events were supposed to have resumed in the school gym.
Construction to install new gym flooring began in August, but hit a snag a month and a half later when live wires were discovered underneath, causing all work to come to a screeching halt.
“They were ready to pour the cement back in October, but when they cut the electric the job stopped,” HHS athletic director Keith Tolentino said.
Little progress has been made in the three months since.
“The Honokaa High School gym sits empty. There’s no floor at all,” HHS Principal Rachel Matsumura said.
Last year a water tank erupted and leaked, causing the gym’s floor to buckle.
“It stayed like that for a year, so we couldn’t use it,” Matsumura said.
The boys and girls volleyball, basketball and wrestling teams, as well as P.E. classes, tournaments and school assemblies, have been displaced ever since.
“Today we have our jazz band playing with Mr. Washburn and a friend from the mainland so we are walking our whole student body — 700 kids — to the Parks &Rec Recreation Honokaa Complex,” Matsumura said Wednesday.
But the Complex isn’t always available.
“There are a lot of cancellations at the P&R gym because of the weather and the moisture in the floor there,” Vice Principal Angie Hewins said. “So even our backup gym needs a backup gym.”
Other options require driving school teams to the Waimea District Park gym or Paauilo.
“It’s a lot of planning on the school’s part because teams don’t get to have a regular practice, they practice with each other,” Matsumura said. “It’s frustrating for them because they want a private practice — girls only or boys only. This also puts out the P&R kids.”
When it rains, students in the Honokaa school’s P.E. class have to stay in the classroom.
“There’s no gym for them to go and play in,” Vice Principal Tammie Picklesimer said. “It impacts social events and graduation too. A gym is a part of our school pride, and it’s a big problem. We’d like to send a message to our kids and community that our gym matters and we matter.”
The administration is waiting anxiously to hear what the next step will be.
“We’re at a standstill. Money most likely will need to be funneled in because the wires are additional to the project,” Matsumura said. “As of last week, an engineer from the Hawaii Department of Education’s School Facilities Department finally came in and created a report we’re waiting to see so we know what needs to happen next. We’re just frustrated.”
Until 2007, the school borrowed Hawaii Army National Guard’s Armory located near the entrance of their campus. Upon moving to Hilo, the facility was turned over to Honokaa High &Intermediate School to use as their very own gym. At the time, the state had money to renovate the facility, repair a leaky roof and restroom, add locker rooms and repaint.
But the flooring was incorrectly installed.
“When they put the flooring down they cemented around it, not allowing it to expand, so it buckled or rippled,” Tolentino said.
Matsumura added, “A water tank leak exasperated it last year. The rippling had been there and we always brought it up with our senator, representative and the DOE but this finally pushed the project forward.”
Several weeks ago, the construction crew came back and re-did the wall louvers, but there is still no flooring.
“A lot of the student athletes ask me when the gym is gonna be done and we don’t have that answer,” Tolentino said.
Matsumura added, “The DOE is very aware of the situation and are trying their best, but it’s all red tape. That’s the problem and we can’t understand it, the kids and community can’t understand it. They think, ‘where’s the money going? What are we doing with the money?’ They drive by and see nobody working on it.”
She continued, “We’re hopeful to receive the report this week or next. The next question will be if there will be the funding to support what needs to be done.”