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City must improve Waipio field upkeep

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The life span of too many public facilities in Hawaii is shorter than it should be, because too little commitment goes toward the upkeep of the place. That observation applies to many individual cases — the recent uproar over the condition at the USS Arizona Memorial grounds comes to mind — with the most recent example being the disrepair at the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium.

It’s already in disrepair, after 15 years, and while the scoreboard and other elements of the park could predictably need replacing after that time, things shouldn’t have deteriorated to this state. The city needs to improve its management of the facility and leverage its limited funds through private partnerships to restore the complex fully to playing condition.

The stadium opened in 2000, amid great fanfare about a critical recreational need being filled through the project, built at a cost of $11 million. It’s interesting that the initial plans for the facility projected that it would be operated by a private, nonprofit entity.

But it’s run by the city, and it’s logical to wonder whether it might have been wiser to have some outside management. The Department of Parks and Recreation also oversees Leeward Oahu district facilities such as Hans L’Orange Park and the Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park.

The Waipio complex sits on 320 acres on the peninsula extending between Pearl Harbor’s Middle and West Loch. The city owns part of the site but leases 233 acres from the Navy at $1 a year.

In addition to serving local soccer organizations, said members of the City Council at the time, the project was seen as an investment that would yield economic benefits by luring teams from outside Hawaii to compete in major tournaments.

In that context, the recent developments seem doubly ironic: It was the threatened refusal of a team to play on the deteriorated field that jolted the city, at long last, into action. A conference team from Texas told the University of Hawaii women’s soccer coach that the unevenness of the unkempt playing surface affected the way the ball bounced and could injure players.

Ultimately, some last-ditch repairs were made to salvage the Aug. 22 matchup between Texas and Arizona State, part of the season-opening Outrigger Resorts Shootout tournament. But the turf, given an extreme haircut, was surely unimpressive to the visiting teams.

The city manager who oversees the complex, Glenn Kajiwara, admitted that it was a “shock” to learn things were that bad. If he was truly surprised, that underscores the reality that conditions were not being monitored sufficiently or — worse — that low standards for upkeep had simply become acceptable.

Officials point to sequential budget cuts as the reason for the decline, but maintenance tasks as basic as mowing and weed control should be given priority even on a tight budget — especially for any complex that accommodates a playing schedule as heavy as Waipio’s.

Given the strain put on the fields, it’s unfortunate that UH didn’t anticipate the need for an alternative site for its own matches — until after the development of the T.C. Ching Athletics Complex on the UH-Manoa campus was already so far along. Adapting that field to NCAA soccer standards will now cost more than it should have — but doing so seems a rational partial solution.

Finally, it’s frustrating to learn that the offer by Outrigger Hotels to replace the original scoreboard was turned down simply because the company requested some branding display. Surely the city’s rules barring billboards were being read too stringently, considering that this is not a billboard in any real sense.

Ultimately, for a complex that’s used by all facets of the community, public and private, it’s precisely that kind of partnering that’s needed to run it well.

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