KAILUA-KONA — The Keahuolu Courthouse is taking shape, but Kona’s first centralized judiciary complex remains about a year away from the gavel striking the block.
Crews were hammering, sawing and grinding away Tuesday as work progressed within the statuesque 140,000-square-foot facility off Makala Boulevard that’s been decades in the making.
Much of the exterior work is complete with stately blue-hued windows installed and the facility’s name emblazoned on its facade. Inside the mighty walls, the 1-acre interior is coming to life with a grand lobby, courtrooms, temporary holding cells, a maze of secure corridors and a whole lot more.
“The community deserves this,” Dawn West, deputy chief court administrator for the Judiciary’s 3rd Circuit, said during a special hard-hat tour of the still-under-construction hall of justice that’s envisioned to meet the community’s needs beyond 2030.
The nearly $96 million courthouse is a stark contrast to the Judiciary’s current court facilities. It will bring together operations taking place at three sites comprising 32,000 square feet into one modern, state-of-the-art courthouse.
“Unlike most other communities, there actually is not a ‘courthouse’ in Kona. Instead, court proceedings are held in three separate locations in buildings that were never originally designed for court use,” said West in reference to questions raised about the need for such a costly, new courthouse.
Long referred to as the Kona Judiciary Complex, the facility is now named the Keahuolu Courthouse. It honors the ahupuaa in which it is located and was presented by the Rev. Danny Akaka Jr., said West.
Judiciary officials anticipate the $95.8 million courthouse to open to the public in late summer 2019.
“This courthouse will provide the West Hawaii community with a full-service facility where they can take care of all court-related matters in a centralized, convenient, and secure environment,” said Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, who made the courthouse a priority of his administration in November 2010, less than two months after being sworn into office.
The price tag is higher than the previous figure of $90 million because it includes an additional $5.8 million allocated by the 2018 state Legislature for equipment and furniture. That contract is out to bid.
When complete, the Keahuolu Courthouse’s first floor will feature the only public entrance, a blind vendor program center, a self-help center, driver’s education, temporary holding cells, juvenile and adult client services and sheriffs operations.
The second floor will comprise two district courtrooms, one family courtroom, a traffic violations bureau, legal documents and conference rooms. Just one of the district courtrooms, both of which can seat 80 in the gallery, will be used initially as the Judiciary is “building for the future,” said West.
On the third floor, there will be two circuit court rooms, a grand jury room, jury assembly and deliberation rooms, a law library and administrative offices.
There’s also plenty of parking with 292 stalls for the public, which includes accessible parking and charging stations for electric vehicles. That’s 363 percent more than the 63 stalls, plus “four-wheel-drive” parking, at the Keakealani Building in Kealakekua, the main court facility in Kona.
And, no more will custodies be walked through public areas because the new facility has secure elevators to transport them from temporary holding cells to secure holding areas near the courtrooms. That’s in addition to an enclosed sally port where custodies being brought to the facility are offloaded from vehicles.
There are also secure and confidential meeting rooms for attorneys, witnesses and others, among other features.
Talk of a centralized courthouse for Kona dates back to the 1990s when, for a short period, a new judicial facility for the area appeared close to becoming reality before somehow dropping from the Judiciary’s priority list.
Since then, new courthouses in Hilo, on Oahu and on Kauai have been planned, approved and constructed in 2009, 2010 and 2006, respectively.
The Hilo Judiciary Complex, a 175,000-square-foot facility, cost $91.7 million. The Kapolei Judiciary Complex, which includes a 123,000 square-foot courthouse and 52,306-square-foot juvenile detention facility, cost of $125 million. Kauai’s Puuhonua Kaulike, an 113,000-square-foot complex, had a $42 million price tag.
A courthouse for Kona moved back on the radar in May 2009 when then-Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Moon said $550,000 had been budgeted for planning. Late the next year, officials unveiled 12 possible sites for the facility. In October 2013, following issues with site selection and completion of environmental studies, Recktenwald selected the site off Makala Boulevard. Just over a year later, design plans were unveiled.
Funding for the facility’s construction was passed by the state Legislature and approved by Gov. David Ige in 2015. Construction got underway in October 2016.
“We’re deeply grateful to the state Legislature for funding this much-needed project for the Kona community, and the whole island,” said West.