East Hawaii News

Complete demolition of dilapidated eyesore in downtown Hilo slated for November

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Demolition of the unstable above-ground exterior walls of the dilapidated Keawe Health Center in Downtown Hilo on the Big Island was completed at the end of March. The remaining slab and below-grade walls will be removed by November. (Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now)

For two years, the former Keawe Health Center languished in disrepair after the Hawai‘i Department of Health was forced to scrap plans to renovate the building when contractors discovered unfixable problems.

The building had become a public hazard and less than a shell of its former self, with only a couple of walls left standing due to the renovation work coming to a screeching halt.

But finally, beginning in late March, the main portion of the dilapidated structure that had become an eyesore at 46 Keawe St. in downtown Hilo was demolished.

Crews took down unstable, above-ground exterior walls of the structure, which previously housed Adult Mental Health Division services and District Health Office staff. Crews also hauled out debris at the site at the corner of Shipman and Kekaulike streets, next to The Temple Bar.


What’s left is removal of on-grade slabs, below-grade walls and other items. But that work can’t be completed until planning and designed is done to ensure sub-grade conditions are not created that could impact nearby structures, sidewalks, roads and utilities.

The Public Works Division of the Hawai‘i Department of Accounting and General Services reports the project is anticipated to be finished in November.

The original plans were to renovate the building. In March 2021, general contractor Isemoto Contracting Co. began the work, but anomalies in the exterior concrete walls were discovered, causing the work stoppage.

“We were surprised at what we found,” Public Works Division Administrator Christine Kinimaka said during a joint hearing of the state Senate Ways and Means and Government Operations committees in January. “When we started literally cracking open the concrete, there were missing rebar, the concrete was falling off.”

The former Keawe Health Center in Downtown Hilo after renovation work stopped due to the discovery of unfixable problems. (Screenshot)

She added there was nothing to restore; new walls would have needed to be built around the existing walls to preserve what was there. So, the decision was made to abandon the building.

“There was just no way we could restore the walls,” Kinimaka told senators in January.

A consultant was brought in and the design team performed a structural integrity evaluation of the exterior walls, which took time. All options were exhausted before the decision was made to to demolish the health center and not continue with the original renovation plans.

Senators grilled Kinimaka during the joint hearing in January about why the building had lingered so long without any work being done and how much money had been spent on the dilapidated structure.


“You need to fix this,” said state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, the Ways and Means Chairman.

Kinimaka told the senators that the circumstances were “devastating to see,” and Public Works jumped on the issue immediately after it found out about the building’s condition. The cost of work completed at the site so far has been about $2.2 million.

Multiple options are now being looked at for relocating the Health Department services and staff displaced from the former health center. That includes identifying potential sites to construct a new facility and looking at purchasing another building or moving to an existing state facility. The displaced staff has been working at a site on Kinoʻole Street in Hilo.

The state plans to work with Hawai‘i County after demolition is finished to provide a secure, safe site for potential future development.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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