KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii County prosecutors will not be making the move to new digs at the West Hawaii Civic Center ahead of Kona 3rd Circuit Court operations moving to the new Keahuolu Courthouse next month.
Instead, the approximately 30 prosecutors and staff will have to make the dozen-or-so-mile commute from their leased office space in Kealakekua to the courthouse in Kailua-Kona, and/or utilize space designated for prosecutors at the new courthouse until their new office is complete and ready for occupancy.
“It’ll definitely be an inconvenience for us,” said Prosecuting Attorney Mitch Roth, who heads prosecutors and staff in East, North and West Hawaii.
The new Office of the Prosecuting Attorney at the West Hawaii Civic Center is months behind schedule. When work got underway on the $14 million project in May 2018, officials anticipated Isemoto Contracting Co. Ltd. would have the project completed April 8, 2019.
That day has since come and gone.
“They’re working very hard, but when I was there last week they didn’t have all the drywall up,” said Roth, “so it’s still a work in progress.”
Last week, scaffolding still lined the southern facade of the structure’s exterior, which remains under construction. Inside, metal studs could be seen with few interior walls appearing to have been hung.
“It is frustrating, though, that we are this far behind schedule,” Roth said. “We would have liked to be in the same day that the courthouse opened.”
The Keahuolu Courthouse officially begins court operations Tuesday, Sept. 3, following Labor Day. Over the holiday weekend, the Judiciary will be moving 3rd Circuit Court operations from four different courts at three different sites in North and South Kona to the new 140,000-square-foot facility off Kamakaeha Avenue.
All court operations continue to operate under normal schedules and at their current sites through Friday, Aug. 30.
Denise Laitinen, public works spokeswoman, said Monday that the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney at the West Hawaii Civic Center was about 50 percent complete.
“All things considered, this project would normally take two years, however it was expedited to be completed in one year to coincide with that of the Keahuolu Judiciary/Courthouse project,” Laitinen said in an emailed response to questions. “While there were some minor design changes in the project, work has been ongoing the entire time period. The over-all building design complexity has challenged the contractor to keep on track for the expedited project completion.”
Isemoto has indicated to the county that it plans to complete work in November, she said.
As for whether the county will seek recourse against the contractor for not meeting the completion deadline, Laitinen said the county has yet to decide.
“The County of Hawaii’s contract provides liquidated damages for construction completion delay. However, the County cannot compute these damages until the project is completed,” she said.
Lee Lord, Hawaii County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney business manager, said that even when the contractor is complete with work, prosecutors won’t be able to move in right away.
According to Lee, there’s still inspections and a punch list to ensure contract specifications were met before occupancy can be given. At that point, the office will need to set up its computer and telephone systems, among other tasks. That takes about a month.
Currently located in Kealakekua, the Kona prosecutor’s office encompasses about 8,500 square feet of leased space. The new building will be two stories and increase the square footage available to 15,761 square feet. It’s designed to meet the community’s needs through the year 2033.
It’s also going to provide more room for the office’s special projects team in Kona.
“I’m extremely grateful for the fact that we’re going to have an office building that’s actually specifically built for our needs that includes security and the space for our staff and our files — and the convenience of being right on the West Hawaii Civic Center (campus), is going to allow our office to participate more in the county activities,” said First Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Dale Ross.
In related news, the Kona Office of the Public Defender will not be making its move closer to Kailua-Kona in time for the new courthouse’s opening, either.
Ann Datta, the office’s lead attorney, said that progress has been delayed and no timeframe for completion is available because it is dependent on permitting.
“We have identified a spot and are hoping to do a build out,” Datta said but was unable to specify the exact locale noting the lease had yet to be completed. “But the delay in the (county) permitting process is delaying our progress.”
Like prosecutors, public defenders will utilize a workroom in the new courthouse while they are in court and commute between there and their current office in Kealakekua, as needed.
The Department of Public Safety’s Intake Services and Sheriff’s Division has already secured office space near the Old Kona Industrial Area allowing for its operations to be closer to the new courthouse.