KAILUA-KONA — The Kona Community Aquatic Center reopens to the public on Tuesday following a lengthy over-the-summer closure.
“We want to say thank you to all the swimmers, all the athletic teams, all the kids that couldn’t swim in the pool all this time, all the seniors, all the people that missed their exercise classes,” Hawaii County Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen told West Hawaii Today Thursday morning. “We really appreciate your understanding and your patience in holding hands with us and going through this whole ordeal.”
The pool, which is Hawaii County’s most used aquatic facility, has been shuttered to the public since the March 1 failure of its sand filtration system that keeps the water clean in both the adult Olympic-size and smaller keiki pools. It was the first such failure since the pool opened in April 1994.
The closure left swimmers, swim teams, and other pool users either high and dry or traveling to other pools or the ocean. Even triathletes preparing for the Ironman World Championship who typically train in the community pool for the big race held last Saturday had to make other arrangements.
One of the swim teams that calls the aquatic center home, the Kona Dolphin Swim Club, has been moving from the ocean at Kailua Pier to Konawaena Pool to the pool at Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Waimea. The youth swim team’s head coach, Joyce Follis, said Thursday they can’t wait to get home.
“We’re so stoked to be back in the pool. No more shark at the 1.2-mile buoy,” Follis said about swimming in the ocean. “I’m so excited for a controlled, safe environment.”
As it was before the shutdown in March, the pool will be open seven days a week, with a closure mid-day for staff lunch breaks as well as cleaning of the facility’s restrooms and testing of the pool’s water. Between July 2018 and February, an estimated 118,000 people used the facility.
“Because the pool is so heavily used, during the break we need to check to make sure we have the right chemistry in there otherwise we will have people getting sick,” said Waltjen, “and we don’t want that.”
Effective upon reopening there will remain two swim sessions per day. On weekdays, Monday through Friday, session one will run 6:15 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. and session two will be 2 to 6:45 p.m. On weekends, the sessions will run 8:15 to 11:35 a.m. and 1 to 4:45 p.m.
Aquatic Solutions Hawaii was awarded the $243,550 contract to replace the filter system and conduct other repairs to the facility in late May. The bid was substantially lower than officials estimated the project would cost at $400,000.
Physical work at the site proceeded slowly as each of the system’s filters had to be manufactured specifically for the Kona pool before being shipped from the mainland to Hawaii Island for installation. The contractor completed the work this month as scheduled.
Since then, county crews have been cleaning the 25-year-old facility and giving much of it a fresh coat of paint, as well as replacing tiling, said P&R Deputy Director Maurice Messina, also noting the pool’s chemistry meets state Department of Health standards.
The county will continue monitoring the system over the weekend, and on Monday the final box will be checked allowing the county to reopen the facility.
“On the 21st, our lifeguards are going to be completing their final certification at the pool to ensure we can open up on the 22nd,” Messina said.
One issue does remain, but Messina and Waltjen aren’t letting it keep the community from its pool.
Some of the grates that cover the pool’s edge were broken when the county went to put them back. When pressed about the source of the damage, Messina pointed to wear and tear.
“Our other option was to keep the pool closed until around the beginning of December until we could get this fixed, but we decided to have this temporary fix in place so that everybody can get back into the pool,” said Waltjen.
Because of the broken grates, pool users will be restricted from entering and exiting the pool in some areas.
“We’re asking the public to please follow the instructions of the lifeguards,” said Messina.
The county expects the grates to be on island late next month.
“At that time, we’re going to have to close the pool for approximately two days while we install the grates and then we’ll open right back up,” Messina said.