By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The county Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium is getting a $2 million facelift, but contractors are running short on time.
The job, which is currently out to bid, would improve the restrooms, expand the concession area, add landscaping and, most importantly, add new dressing rooms for halau participating in the Merrie Monarch Festival, which is held at the Hilo stadium.
This year the festival runs from March 31 to April 6, with action at the stadium on the nights of April 3-6. Bids on the project will be opened Nov. 29, and it will be done — officials hope — by mid-March.
“Holy moley,” replied Luana Kawelu, president of the festival, when informed about the timeline. “I hope it gets done on time.”
The stadium, which seats around 5,000 people, has been filled to capacity for many years now, and throughout that time Kawelu, and her mother before her, have had to deal with the challenges of squeezing the world’s most prestigious hula festival into a converted tennis stadium.
Women who don’t want to use the dimly lit portable toilets at the rear of the stadium form long lines outside of the small public restroom at one corner of the stadium.
It’s a human traffic jam at the concession booth, with festival-goers standing in line to get their dinners, while hundreds of others squeeze by the concession booth en route to their seat.
Backstage, a tightly choreographed scene unfolds each year as halau members rush to get ready inside their tiny dressing rooms, perform their numbers and, having done that, clear out to make space for a halau that performs later in the evening. There are dressing rooms set up at Aunty Sally Kaleohano’s Luau Hale and at Wong Stadium, while other halau prepare in their hotel rooms and step off the bus fully dressed.
Any improvement the county can make would be welcomed by festival organizers and the public.
“It’s high priority, especially the dressing rooms,” Kawelu said.
Parks and Recreation Director Bob Fitzgerald promises the project will be done in time for the Merrie Monarch Festival. There’s added pressure to have the stadium looking good by then because this is the jubilee year, with honored guests, some halau members returning from the early years of the festival, and a reunion of all former Miss Aloha Hulas.
“Obviously it’s going to be done by Merrie Monarch,” Fitzgerald said, adding that he would express that urgency to whichever contractor wins the job.
“Our plan is to have this entire project done before March 11,” said James Komata, a planner with the Department of Parks and Recreation, and he said there are conditions on the bid that should ensure completion. The department will ask the contractor to consider working more than the usual eight-hour days, for example.
“Delays are unacceptable. Because of the magnitude of the event, we’re trying to squeeze it in,” Komata said.
The halau dressing rooms would be set up in a new 4,200-square-foot multipurpose building with a wooden frame on a concrete foundation.
Between the Kanaka‘ole Stadium and the Charles “Sparky” Kawamoto Swim Stadium are three outdoor tennis courts. Two of the courts are in unplayable condition and have been for some time, Komata said. These would be removed and replaced with the new building.
The lobby area in the front of the stadium will undergo significant changes, with an expansion out toward the parking lot, and a covered entrance will be built on the side of the stadium facing Aunty Sally’s. New fencing will be added, and the restroom will have additional fixtures installed.
The stadium’s electrical system will be upgraded to accommodate the possibility of more lights, Komata said.
Email Peter Sur at email@example.com.