[image title=”A motorist traveling on Welakahao Street passes the site of the new park (foreground) as well as Hope Chapel (background) Thursday morning.” size=”full” id=”379″ align=”none” alt=”A motorist traveling on Welakahao Street passes the site of the new park (foreground) as well as Hope Chapel (background) Thursday morning.” linkto=”full” ]

Maui News | June 29, 2008 | CHRIS HAMILTON

KIHEI – Plans for a 40-acre regional park in South Maui have been on the table for so long that it’s easy to understand why many Kihei residents have probably forgotten about it.

Well, it’s time for a refresher on the South Maui Community Park. Construction on the nearly $10 million first phase of the project – eight years in development – is finally set to begin in January, said Maui County parks planner Pat Matsui.

“We can’t wait to get the ball rolling now,” said Parks Director Tamara Horcajo. “It is a facility that is long overdue for our community.”

Nearly all of the proposed site for the South Maui Community Park is currently an Oklahoma-shaped empty lot filled mostly with scrub brush, dirt and a gulch.

It is bordered to the south by Hope Chapel on Welakahao Road and on the north by Halekuai Street and Kihei Elementary and Lokelani Intermediate schools. Piilani Highway frames the park to the east.

South Maui Community Park also will be only about two blocks from the Kihei Community and Aquatic centers.

The central location was by design, said Mayor Charmaine Tavares.

This park’s first phase should transform most of the landscape to make it look parklike, Matsui said. Most of the initial work, which should take about 10 months to complete, involves constructing infrastructure, such as sewer and water pipes as well as roads and parking lots.

Total project cost is estimated at more than $30 million; and no one can say exactly when it will be done, although somewhere between 2015 and 2020 has been suggested by county officials in the past. Ultimately, the park’s completion depends on the elected officials who hold the county’s purse strings.

“I’m just thrilled that we’re finally starting,” said Tavares, a former parks director who was on the County Council when the park was first proposed. “I think it’s wonderful for the Kihei community, which is the only one of our communities without a central park. . . . I think once we start a park like that, usually we will continue to budget for it until it is finished.”

Included in the phase one plans, although some details are still tentative:

Phase 1A; grading the entire site, which is on a slope; one soccer field; one softball field (both regulation size); lights; two restrooms; all the utilities; a road; a parking lot; drainage and irrigation systems.

Phase 1B; a gymnasium that can seat up to 1,000; two more soccer fields; two more softball fields (also all regulation size); three playgrounds; a grass amphitheater; a pavilion; two more restrooms; a senior activity area; a youth center; storage space; picnic tables and lots of trees

Phase II; outdoor tennis and basketball courts next to the new Kihei Recycling and Redemption Center on Welakahao Road.

The plans include an access roadway created by extending Liloa Drive to connect Welakahao Road to Halekuai Street, with an interior road looping through the park.

Planners spent years developing the park in consultation with the Kihei Community Association and other future users, such as athletic organizations.

Bob Richardson of the Kihei Community Association applauded the current Parks and Recreation Department staff and Horcajo for giving them numerous opportunities to tweak the regional park’s plans, such as adding air conditioning and a cafeteria to the gym.

The first bids will go out in September; and there will be more community meetings, county officials said. For years, proponents appealed for an “active park” or a sprawling park with lots of space for organized indoor and outdoor sports activities that was missing from South Maui.

It’s been more than a year since the county’s last public meeting on the park. Since then, the county has been finishing up the park’s designs and specifications in coordination with Hiyakumoto & Higuchi Architects and Chris Hart & Partners Landscape Architecture & Planning, Matsui said.

Over the last two budget cycles, Tavares and the County Council also set aside $9,865,000 for Phase 1A, most of which comes from general obligation bonds. The rest is paid for out of the county’s park assessment fee fund. A developer or homebuilder must pay $17,510 for each residential unit they construct in the Kihei-Makena Community District to support public parks.

“This park is important in that it will incorporate passive and active recreation; because on Maui we tend to have a lot of parks that are either very athletic or are beach parks,” said David Sereda of Chris Hart & Partners.

Sereda said some of the other amenities in the designs include a Hawaiian native plant garden; benches with ocean views; places for people to sit on the grass and talk; designated areas for food or T-shirt vendors during events and a 1-mile walking trail. The county has spent about $1 million on planning South Maui Community Park.

County officials said Kihei has outgrown Kalama Park, a coastal park that can no longer accommodate the demand for activities involving visitors and residents.

“South Maui needs this,” Matsui said. “Once we have these ball fields, then Kalama Park can be just for Little League and we can expand the tennis courts there as well. This park has been our department’s first priority for a number of years. We’re anxious to get started.”

A version of Chris Hart & Partners’ Powerpoint presentation on the South Maui Community Park can be found at the Kihei Community Association Web site at www.gokihei.org. Just look under “KCA