Rock of ages


By CHELSEA JENSEN

Stephens Media

What could be the original foundation of St. Michael the Archangel Church, completed in 1850, may have been unearthed at the Alii Drive construction site in Kailua-Kona.

Crews excavating the land in preparation for the construction of a new Catholic church Monday afternoon unearthed what appears to be part of the original church’s foundation, said Michael Vitousek, an archaeologist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ State Historic Preservation Division.

The find includes two separate approximately 30-foot rock walls near the rear portion of where the church once stood. The walls are separated by 5 to 10 feet.

Vitousek said the church and on-site archaeologist Bob Rechtman, of Rechtman Consulting LLC, are documenting the find. All work has stopped in the area pending further investigation to determine if the foundation is from the 1850 church.

Rechtman said the find is likely the original foundation from the church. It was found underneath a slab of concrete that was apparently not removed during the early 2010 demolition of the church after it was damaged in the October 2006 earthquakes, he said.

The rock walls are most likely not part of a tomb, Vitousek said. Rechtman oversaw the removal of remains of the Rev. Joachim Marechal, the first pastor, who oversaw construction of the original church, during the demolition of the church in 2010.

“Once it is documented, we will move forward,” Rechtman said.

Dick Leander, who heads the church’s building committee, said he is looking for additional historical information and photographs to determine what exactly the rock walls are before the project moves forward. Anyone with such information should call him at 326-2613.

Leander also provided a construction update noting the project is currently in the excavation phase. Crews are currently excavating the church’s foundation and have removed most of a hill to the rear of the property. Crews are also working on dry holes and sumps around the property.

Tentatively, materials to construct the building will arrive in September, he said. The first phase of construction is expected to take about 18 months.

Groundbreaking for the new St. Michael the Archangel Church was held in September. The church was deemed unsafe by structural engineers in 2007 following the 2006 earthquakes. Since then, services have been held in a tent on the Alii Drive property, and, more recently, at a facility off Honokohau Street in Kailua-Kona.

Completed in 1850, St. Michael’s is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Kona, according to the Kona Historical Society. Gov. John Adams Kuakini gave the land beneath St. Michael’s to the Catholic Church in 1841. The church was completed under the Rev. Marechal.

The church has been restored twice since its original construction, including in the 1930s and 1970s, said Rechtman.

The new church will include a 9,455-square-foot church building and a two-story, 11,030-square-foot parish hall. Also in the plans are a parking lot and landscaping. The $7.1 million project will be built in two phases.

Email Chelsea Jensen at cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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