We’re Pumped! Neglected Kakaako Pumping Station Gets T.L.C.

A historic but neglected local building finally gets a new tenant.
Photo: Michael Keany

One of Hawaii’s coolest empty buildings is about to get a facelift, and be put back into use after more than half a century of neglect.

Thanks to a $1 million capital improvement grant released by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, the Kakaako Pumping Station across from the old CompUSA site is slated to be renovated and reopened as a community resource center for local nonprofit Pacific Gateway Center. It sounds like a fitting use for a building that—to our eyes—has always looked more like a church than a utilitarian pumping station.

“It’s exciting for us,” says PGC executive director Tin Myaing Thein. “It’s a beautiful building, and it’s in pretty good shape, considering its age.” She says the nonprofit intends to use the building for activities, education and case management for local senior citizens and children.

Why is this happening now, after so many years of the building sitting empty? It turns out the key to jumpstarting the project was keeping the scope of the renovation small.

“These funds are only for the main building,” says Lindsey Doi, public information officer at the HCDA. “Really, the priority is getting somebody in there, having the public using it again. So many projects have fizzled out over the years, you know, at one point or another, it was going to be a restaurant, or a gas station. This is the one idea that’s stuck.”

“One million really isn’t that much,” Doi says, “but with this building, there isn’t that much that needs to be done.”

The lava-stone structure itself is—ahem—rock solid, even after 114 years, so the list of repairs is surprisingly short: fixing up the cracked tiles of the roof and the aging plaster-work inside, upgrading the electricity and plumbing to modern standards, grading the lawn to make sure that rainwater flows away from the building, and making everything ADA-compliant.

Saved for later: the rehabilitation of the two outbuildings on the lot, which are going to require a lot more TLC. In the 1990s, the estimated cost of bringing the entire property up to a usable condition was around $3 million, a price tag that included dealing with the 100-foot-deep well underneath one of the outbuildings, which was capped and abandoned in the 1950s before there was any environmental laws.

Even though this current project is postponing the dirty work, it will be adhering to code: the first step is an environmental impact assessment, which should be completed this December. Work is scheduled to begin in January, and Tin Myang estimates that PGC will be up and running by this time next year.