Waimea’s hope for a district park is one step closer to reality, after the Hawaii County Council Finance Committee approved the release of $2.5 million in funding for the project during an Aug. 6 meeting. The amount matches the $2.5 million that was secured by state Sen. Malama Solomon, D-North Hawaii, and Rep. Cindy Evans D-North Kona, South Kohala, during the state Legislative session in February and released in July, for a total of $5 million in state and county funds thus far for the project.
“This is an area that hasn’t seen infrastructure built with the growth of the population,” said Valerie Poindexter, chairwoman of the County Council Finance Committee. “We definitely need it because of the population boom and the amount of space for activities needed to build a safe and healthy community.”
Waimea Parks and Recreation activities – including baseball, softball, football, soccer, rugby, volleyball and other sports for all ages – have the use of four fields, which include two regulation baseball and softball fields, two smaller ones for tee ball and coach pitch that also double as a football field on five acres in the middle of town. Teams also practice on the field next to the Waimea Civic Center and across the street at the Church Row open space.
Basketball games are either played at the Thelma Parker gym or the New Hope gym.
The $5 million state and county funds will go toward civil engineering infrastructure and part of phase I construction.
Phase I of the proposed 24-acre Waimea District Park, to be located behind Parker Ranch Headquarters off the new Ala Ohia Road, will probably include an access road, a regulation football, soccer and rugby field, covered play court, and baseball field, a comfort station and infrastructure, including water, sewer, drainage and power, though plans have not yet been solidified.
Robert Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation, said that he, Mayor Billy Kenoi, and director Clayton Homna are dedicated to working on the Waimea District Park project.
“The Waimea community has been longing for a nice park in the area, and the mayor has been committed to it and to making sure that we get the first part off the ground,” Fitzgerald said.
Mel Macy, community leader who helped form the Waimea Park Builders through the Waimea Community Association, said he has been both a coach and a player on the fields of the current Waimea Park on Lindsey Road. He has been involved with the project for many years because he said, “Kids need a place for sports and a healthy environment to hang out in.”
“We outgrew our town park 30 years ago, and we needed something that would be able to accommodate baseball, softball, soccer, football – all of those things that we are trying to squeeze into the 5-acre parcel in the middle of town,” Macy said.
“Nothing is healthier than sports activities, and we need the facilities to do that,” he added.
Sen. Solomon, who proposed the bill in the Senate Water and Land committee, called the shortage of recreational facilities in Waimea “acute” in a letter to the County Council Finance Committee, and she said the need for more recreational space was “already evident when the late Richard Smart crafted the Parker Ranch 2020 Plan in the mid-1980s.”
“I am writing to express my continued support for this project, recognizing that this $2.5 million represents just the first phase of a much bigger effort,” said Solomon in her letter.
“I am elated that Mayor Billy Kenoi is releasing the money for the park,” Solomon said in an interview with North Hawaii News on Aug. 12. “It is a project that is needed by our community, and I am very happy that I was able to provide the assistance.”
In her letter, Solomon said that what “blew away my fellow legislators” was the response by the community in support of the park. Residents sent about 300 letters, and emails, and made phone calls in support of the park, which were accompanied by personal stories about the benefits and importance of a new district park.
“I want to congratulate the community because the community did a tremendous job in lobbying for the park, and I wait anxiously to see it come to fruition,” Solomon said.
Poindexter said that each community should be “all about safe and healthy communities” and that they should have the same types of facilities and infrastructure as is planned for the Waimea District Park.
“This could be a great model of what can happen throughout the island,” Poindexter said.