Governor Neil Abercrombie recently released $17.9 million to Hawai'i County for the design and construction of the first Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certified shelter in Ka'u. The project will double as a new gymnasium on the grounds of Ka'u High and Elementary School.
The facility will include a specially designed air filtration system to provide relief and shelter to vulnerable residents when emissions from Kilauea volcano reach high levels.
"This project has dual benefits. It will improve the school gym facility and offer a safe refuge for the Ka'u community during a disaster," Governor Abercrombie said. "I applaud the area lawmakers, the county, and the Department of Education for their cooperation and foresight. As the project moves forward, it will create jobs and have a positive effect on our economy."
Representative Bob Herkes and Department of Agriculture Director Russell Kokubun (a former state senator) were instrumental incorporating the appropriation for the gym and shelter into Act 180 in 2010. Also advocating for the project were state Senator Gil Kahele, former Hawai'i County Council member Guy Enriques, and Hawai'i County Council member Brittany Smart. Now, in a collaborative effort in government, Hawai'i County will oversee the design and construction of the project with input from the state Department of Education.
"This district is vulnerable to an array of potential natural disasters ranging from lava flows and hurricanes to tsunamis, yet there are no FEMA-approved shelters to protect residents and visitors in Ka'u today," said Mayor Billy Kenoi. "We are very grateful to Governor Abercrombie for releasing the funds to move this important project forward."
The facility will be located on state-owned land near the front of the school, and will be operated and maintained by the county. The county Department of Public Works is in the process of selecting an architectural firm to design the project.