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New Kona Courthouse Project Moving Ahead

February 27, 2012, 4:49 PM HST
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The state Judiciary is about to select a location for the long-awaited new Kona judiciary complex.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie last week accepted the final environmental impact statement for the courthouse. The next step is for Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald to choose from among seven potential sites, said Mark Santoki, the Judiciary’s community relations officer.

The EIS prepared by the planning firm Group 70 International, Inc. initially considered 14 possible locations, eventually whittling that list down to seven sites.

The EIS doesn’t mince words when it comes to the need for a new court complex in West Hawaii.

“The court facilities in West Hawaii, and specifically within the Kona area, are grossly inadequate for their current needs,” it states.

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“It’s a much-needed project,” said Lester Oshiro, chief court administrator for the Third Circuit, which encompasses the entire Big Island.

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According to Oshiro, the need for more secure facilities is paramount.

The EIS notes that one of Kona’s two courtrooms is in a converted hospital built in 1939 that lacks even a separate entrance for prisoners, who must be brought in through the same entrance the public uses.

“This creates a safety concern,” the EIS said. Also, holding cells built for four inmates sometimes must hold up to 20, it said.

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“Security is a huge issue for everyone: the public, attorneys, staff and judges,” Oshiro said. “If we consolidate, we can have a more secure building.”

Court proceedings in Kona currently take place in three locations, some more than a dozen miles apart.

Oshiro said having separate facilities creates a huge challenge for the understaffed sheriff’s deputies, who provide security for the Judiciary statewide. Having Kona’s facilities spread out also makes it difficult for attorneys, who may have to dash from one location to another for hearings, he said.

A shortage of deputies forced the Judiciary to close district courts in four rural locations on the Big Island over the past several years.

The EIS said other issues in Kona include a severe lack of space, which has meant hallways must be used to store files, and individuals waiting for a jury call must wait in an outdoor courtyard which floods when it rains. Parking is also in short supply.

The new courthouse is expected to cost $90.7 million. State lawmakers last year appropriated $4.5 million for land acquisition and $7.5 million for design. Oshiro said once a site is selected, the Judiciary will seek funding from the state Legislature for construction.

The new Kona courthouse is expected to contain at least 140,000 square feet of space.

It will be the fourth built in the state since the mid-1980s.

A three-story, 175,000-square-foot courthouse costing $91.7 million was opened in Hilo in 2009. Prior to that, court proceedings were held in several locations besides the former main courthouse in the state’s office building on Aupuni Street.

New courthouses were also opened in Lihue, Kauai in 2005, and in Kaneohe, Oahu in 2003.

 

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