Changes to Pana‘ewa complex miff equestrians

  • Nearly all of the trees visible in this shot are being considered for removal. (Photos by Mike Brestovansky/Tribune-Herald)

  • One of the older stables to which occupants of the soon-to-be-demolished stables were moved.

  • This row of stables is slated for demolition, to be replaced with handicap-accessible parking spaces.

  • Left to right, Christie Brookman, with her horse Sundance; Shannan Austin; and Margie Cooper, with her horse Rio. All three women are opposed to planned renovations at Panaewa Equestrian Center. (Photos by Mike Brestovansky/Tribune-Herald)

HILO — Extensive accessibility renovations are scheduled for the Panaewa Recreational Complex this year, but several users of the attached Panaewa Equestrian Center are pushing back against some of the proposed changes.

Much of the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is not currently compliant with the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act, said Pam Mizuno, administrator for the Panaewa Recreational Complex. To remedy this, the county is soliciting bids for a substantial renovation project that is estimated to take the better part of a year at least.

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However, some of the proposed changes within the Panaewa Equestrian Center have raised concerns among some its users.

“They’re totally unnecessary,” said Shannan Austin, who rents stable stalls at the center.

In particular, the renovation plans call for the removal of three to four monkeypod trees planted alongside the access road servicing the stables, as well as the demolition of one row of stables that will be replaced by handicapped parking spaces.

Removing the trees, which are approximately 50 years old, will remove nearly all of the shade surrounding the equestrian center’s arena, Austin said — shade being especially desirable for equestrians and their horses waiting to enter the arena during events.

“We’ve already lost 14 trees around here already,” Austin said, pointing to the stumps of other trees surrounding the arena. “And I have to wonder, ‘To what purpose?’”

Meanwhile, horses that were being kept in the stables now slated for removal have been moved to a nearby, older stable row of different construction, which Austin said is woefully inadequate to house horses for any reasonable length of time.

While most of the stables at the center are of a modular construction, with open windows and space for feeding and storage, the older stables are built of cinder blocks, have few windows and appear to be considerably smaller than the modular stables. However, because the older stables are up a hill from the other stables and the arena, they could not easily be replaced by handicapped parking spaces.

Not only does the plan inconvenience the owners of horses kept in the to-be-demolished stables, it also places new parking spaces and vehicles directly in a path where horses would typically walk alongside the road, Austin said, which raises the risk of the horses being spooked or slipping on the pavement.

“There was no consultation with any of us at the center about this,” Austin said.

But the plans already appear to be final. Mizuno said the project covers the entire zoo, which must comply with ADA requirements. In order to comply, three or four trees must be removed from the equestrian center because their growing roots are beginning to damage the access road, or present tripping hazards, and handicapped parking spots must be installed near the arena and the bathrooms.

Compared to the renovations at the rest of the recreation complex, those changes may be minor, Mizuno said. About 85 percent of the walkways in the complex need to be redone, as does the entire front entrance.

“There aren’t even ADA-accessible toilets in the zoo,” Mizuno said.

But Austin said the lack of attention to the equestrian center has been all too common in recent years. Much of the center’s facilities have fallen into disrepair, with some renters having to repair damage to their own stalls.

While Mizuno said fewer than half of the available stalls at the center are in use, Austin said that several of the stalls are unusable because of poor maintenance. And, although Mizuno said there will still be four or five monkeypod trees remaining in the center, most of those will not be near the arena.

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Austin and several other concerned users of the center are seeking to form a “Friends of the Panaewa Equestrian Center” group in order to raise awareness of the issue and potentially find a way to protect the trees and current stables. However, the bidding for the contract ends on Wednesday.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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