Two libraries slated for Puna

Two new libraries could be coming to Puna in the next few years.

Attached to this year’s state budget, roughly $2 million was allocated to build a new library in Keaau. Another state library, for the lower Puna area, is being considered alongside a county transit hub as part of a co-location for both facilities.


Initial funding for the Keaau library will cover planning, design and construction.

“That one is moving faster than the Pahoa library,” said state Sen. Joy San Buenaventura. “It’s moving faster because the plan is to put it on state property, in a place that’s accessible by both pedestrians and students.”

For the lower Puna library, accessibility was a key concern cited by Mayor Mitch Roth. House Bill 1489, which proposed $12 million for the lower Puna library, was ultimately rejected. Instead, a revaluation to determine the feasibility of a new location will take place.

“There’s state resources that are being coupled with county and federal resources to essentially plan out if locating a library and all the associated services with a transportation hub is feasible for Puna,” Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz said regarding the lower Puna library. “And if so, where in the Pahoa vicinity could it be located?”

The proposal for the project began in 2014 and was introduced by former Sen. Russell Ruderman. Three initial locations were considered, including a favored spot near the Pahoa police, fire and driver licensing facilities located off Highway 130 about a quarter-mile before the Pahoa Bypass Road roundabout.

“When the locations for the Puna library went out, there were huge concerns to ensure that kids, who are primary users of the library, will not be endangered by walking across highways,” said San Buenaventura, citing concerns raised by the coming and going of emergency response vehicles in the location. “That’s why they decided to just wait and see where the transit hub is going to be.”

An original environmental assessment was completed for the potential library, estimating the total cost at roughly $11 million. The concept included 8,000 square feet of enclosed, air-conditioned interior space and 1,000 square feet for an indoor-outdoor entry lanai activity area.

A new environmental assessment will need to be completed following the selection of a new location.

John Andow, Mass Transit administrator for Hawaii County, said he hopes a location for the transit hub is selected prior to Dec. 31, 2023, a decision that will determine the location of the library.

Administration officials from Hele-On are hopeful the transit hub will be completed in the next two to three years.

The state provided an initial investment of $350,000 in June, and another $270,000 was given to the county by the Federal Transit Administration, or FTA, to support the planning process.

The county is working with SSFM International, a consulting firm assisting with site selection and 30% of the design process. SSFM previously consulted the county on developing a Mass Transit Master Plan.

“We go from concept to design, all with SSFM,” said Kierkiewicz. “I trust their ability to get in communities, and work with communities to put together a plan that is very representative of what the community wants to see.”

There currently are 11 locations being considered for the transit hub and library.

“There will be public outreach, a public comment period, and meetings with residents of the community before anything is finalized,” Kierkiewicz said. “That’s part of the process.”

She is hopeful the initial study regarding possible locations will be completed this year.

“Once the study is done, and I’m anticipating it’ll be done this year, then we can go back to the state Legislature next year and say these are the options, let’s start working on some capital improvement money to invest and actually building this out,” she said. “It makes sense to me for the county and state to partner, so we can braid county and state funding together.”

Kierkiewicz is open to ideas about what the library could include, mentioning a community theater, IT labs, broadband access, multipurpose conference rooms and integrated outdoor picnic areas.

“These are all just different ideas that the community can consider and bring to the table,” she said. “If we’re going to build it, let’s make sure that it’s meeting the needs and desires of the community, not just for today, but also thinking about future population growth.”

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