KAILUA-KONA — The gavel is set to strike the block next week at the new Keahuolu Courthouse as court operations scattered across several sites in North Kona and South Kona finally converge under one roof.
The stately, three-story 140,000-square-foot judiciary complex opens to the public at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3, for its first day of official court operations at the facility located at 74-5451 Kamakaeha Ave., north of Makalapua Shopping Center. After today, all Family, Circuit and District courts cases assigned to Kona will be heard at the centralized courthouse.
“The prospects and excitement of settling into Keahuolu Courthouse are energizing judges and staff. We can’t wait to welcome the public and continue to provide exemplary service in the new facility when the doors open Sept. 3,” said Jan Kagehiro, Judiciary spokeswoman. There will be signage to direct users throughout the courthouse and staff will be able to assist, if needed.
Judges for the past month have been informing attorneys and their clients that their cases would be heard at the new court house effective Sept. 3, which is Tuesday. During that timeframe, furniture and equipment was also being installed at the new courthouse as the judiciary’s information technology staff deployed and tested equipment such as phones, computers, and printers.
“Court staff and movers are packing and moving boxes of files and additional existing equipment such as phones, computers, and printers and transporting usable furnishings,” said Kagehiro. The move will be finalized over the Labor Day holiday weekend.
The $95.8 million courthouse built by Nan Inc. is a stark contrast to the Judiciary’s now-former Kona court facilities. It is bringing together four court operations taking place at three sites in South and North Kona comprising 32,000 square feet into one modern, state-of-the-art courthouse.
“This will be so much more convenient for the Kona community,” said Kagehiro. “Keahuolu Courthouse will have five courtrooms, self-help center, law library, traffic violations bureau, legal documents, grand jury room, jury deliberations room, and more.”
The Keahuolu Courthouse’s first floor features 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 contains two district courtrooms and one family courtroom as well as the traffic violations bureau, legal documents area and conference rooms. Just one of the district courtrooms, both of which can seat 80 in the gallery, will be used initially.
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.
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.
And, there’ll be plenty of parking with nearly 300 stalls for the public, which includes accessible and carpool parking and charging stations for electric vehicles.
Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald made the courthouse a priority of his administration in November 2010, less than two months after being sworn into office. The Keahuolu Courthouse is envisioned to meet the community’s needs beyond 2030.
In a prepared statement he attributed its reality to the vision of retired Chief Judge Ronald Ibarra and the support of the state Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor, Hawaii bar associations, and countless others.
“I’m also extremely happy for the West Hawaii community. For years, we have been providing court services in three different buildings, none of which were designed as courthouses. Very soon the public will have a full-service facility where they can take care of all court-related matters in a centralized, convenient, and secure environment, and can access an expanded self-help center where volunteer attorneys will provide legal information to assist them,” Recktenwald said.
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.
In 1985, the Judiciary took over the Keakealani Building for operations, expanded to the Lender’s building in the early 1990s and then to the site of a former farm supply store on Halekii Street.
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 Keahuolu Courthouse site.
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.
The Keahuolu Courthouse is the latest major capital improvement project undertaken by the Judiciary. Since the early 2000s, the Judiciary has been moving forward with new courthouses across the state opening complexes in Hilo, on Oahu and on Kauai, 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 $125 million. Kauai’s Puuhonua Kaulike, a 113,000-square-foot complex, had a $42 million price tag.
The Judiciary is next looking at Maui, where the main courthouse in Wailuku is 30 years old, Kagehiro said.
“It is deteriorating and faces major repair and maintenance issues. It serves a greatly expanded population in Maui County, which has led to tremendous court operations and security challenges,” she said. “But we also have significant challenges at other court locations. Again, we will continue to work with the communities we serve and the Legislature to identify the best path forward.”
THINGS TO KNOW
– The new Keahuolu Courthouse is located at 74-5451 Kamakaeha Ave. in Kailua-Kona, north of the Makalapua Shopping Center.
– Court facilities and operations at the Keakealani Building on Haukapila Street, Division 4 on Halekii Street and Family Court at the Lender’s Document Service Building off Nalani Street cease operations at close of business today.
Hele-On buses will have scheduled stops at the new Keahuolu Courthouse, effective Tuesday
– All Judiciary phone numbers remain the same. For Circuit Court, contact 322-8750; for Family Court, call 443-2177 and for District Court, dial 322-8700.
– The Department of Public Safety’s Sheriff Division has secured office space in the Old Kona Industrial Area. Sheriffs, who are responsible for general law enforcement, will operate primarily at the courthouse.
– The Department of Public Safety’s Hawaii Intake Service Center moved from Kealakekua and is now located at 75-184 Hualalai Road in the Hualalai Medical Center.
– Hawaii County prosecutors based in Kona are not yet relocating because completion of the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney at the West Hawaii Civic Center, which was supposed to be finished in April, is months behind schedule. They will commute from office space in Kealakekua and use a workroom at the courthouse.
– The Kona Office of the Public Defender will also continue to operate from space up in Kealakekua, near the current prosecutor’s office. A delay in permitting is holding up the construction of a new office closer to Kailua-Kona.