East Hawaii News

County Council accepts $13M federal grant for repairs at former Hilo Memorial Hospital

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The former Hilo Memorial Hospital property is located less than a mile from Hilo Medical Center on Rainbow Drive in Hilo. (File photo)

Repairs at the former Hilo Memorial Hospital should begin later this year now that the Hawai‘i County Council has accepted $13 million in federal grant funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Council on Wednesday during its regular session approved Resolution 384 by a vote of 8-1 for the county to receive the funds.

The Hawai‘i County Office of Housing and Community Development anticipates bidding out the project, which would focus on repairing the dilapidated old hospital’s roof and removing hazardous materials, including asbestos, sometime during the first three months of this year.

Construction should begin sometime shortly after a contract is awarded.

More extensive renovations and additional building development, which opened in the late 1890s, and its surrounding nearly 25 acres located at 34 Rainbow Drive in Hilo, which is less than a mile from Hilo Medical Center, would be separate and require additional funding.


The County has already spent more than $1.2 million on planning and designing the project as well as developing a conceptual master plan for future renovations and the property surrounding the old hospital, of which about 10 acres look to be developable.

Another $950,000 in ‘Ohana Zones money from the state also was used for some interior work at the building to allow Hope Services Hawai‘i to use portions of the building for shelter space during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other than that, the county hasn’t made many capital improvements to the aging building.

Office of Housing and Community Development Administrator Susan Kunz told the council on Wednesday that plans are to offer a full line of services on the property, including continuing its relationship with Hope Services Hawai‘i, which still operates an emergency shelter for men and some permanent housing in the old hospital, and hoping to bring in other agencies such as the Hawai‘i Department of Health.

The Big Island Substance Abuse Council is working with the county to get space in the building to provide services there, and building permanent supportive and affordable housing on the property is part of the county’s bigger picture.


The Office of Housing and Community Development also is taking into account input it has received from the public on what the property’s future could look like. Kunz is already looking at additional capital improvement funding for additional development of the site as well.

Repairing the roof and clearing out hazardous materials are the first steps in implementing those plans.

“The county has a vision for what they want to do with the 25 acres there, and, yes, renovating the hospital is a big, big part of that,” said Kunz, adding she’s excited about what’s starting to roll out for the future of the property and what she can envision there.

She said development of the old Hilo hospital property coupled with repairs and renovations of the building itself is part of the county’s bigger vision of how it wants to address homelessness in East Hawai‘i.

Council Chairwoman Heather Kimball was the lone dissenting vote on Resolution 384.


Kimball said during a Dec. 19 meeting of the Council’s Finance Committee that she appreciates the nostalgia people have for old buildings and the memories they have of them. Still, she doesn’t think money should be spent on renovating buildings without “good bones,” especially one like the old hospital building that is full of asbestos, lead and other toxins.

Kunz said she’s been told by consultants and others who have gone in to assess the building’s structure that it’s sound and to replace a 3-story cement structure like the old hospital would likely cost more than $60 million.

“We’ve really tried to investigate and make sure that we’re making good decisions,” she said.

Kimball thinks, even though it would be more of an initial outlay and cost, the money would be better spent on developing and constructing something new on the site intended for the same uses.

“I realize we’re getting this as grant money, but we, the county, are going to be chasing this building for decades once we try to restore it because it is an older building,” said Kimball during Wednesday’s meeting. “I genuinely believe this is not a good investment of taxpayer dollars, whether it’s coming from the federal government or from the County.”

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 nathan@bigislandnow.com
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