The Army plans to demolish nearly 100 World War II-era Quonset huts at Pohakuloa Training Area on Hawaii island — a potential loss of iconic structures that historians are lamenting.
But the service said the once-sturdy corrugated steel huts — familiar for their repurpose in many areas around the state — are now dilapidated, prone to flooding and inefficiently configured.
As part of a $210 million project, the Army wants to replace 123 buildings over 80 acres in the northeastern corner of the Pohakuloa Training Area that include barracks, troop support and administrative and industrial support facilities, according to a newly released environmental assessment.
U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii said the demolition would involve nearly 100 Quonset huts and that “a few Quonset huts would remain” if the project proceeds.
The huts would be replaced by one-story concrete masonry structures of similar size and height, the assessment said.
The environmental assessment came to an initial conclusion that the project would have “no significant impact.”
The renovations, which include utility improvements, “will modernize aging, outdated utility and building infrastructure which do not support PTA’s mission, and which require increasing maintenance and repair to remain operational,” the Army said.
At 130,000 acres the Pohakuloa Training Area is the largest training area in Hawaii and “plays a significant role in the training and readiness of U.S. armed forces in the Pacific,” the Army said.
The public can comment on the project through Aug. 7. The Army said it will not make a final decision on whether to proceed with the project, with building scheduled to start in fiscal 2019, until after the public’s review.
Inspired by Britain’s Nissen hut, the American Quonset was designed in 1941 at Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island. By the end of World War II, an estimated 150,000 had been built, according to the Washington state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation.
“They were a fast, cheap and easy form of construction when the nation was going to war,” said Kiersten Faulkner, executive director of the Historic Hawai’i Foundation. “The military services needed some kind of construction that was adaptable, that could fit a lot of different needs and a lot of different environments that was easy to transport, easy to construct and was very functional — and it met all of those needs.”
Right after the war there was a move to repurpose some of the Quonset huts.
“So that’s when many of them were moved to places like Kakaako or to agricultural areas as well — because they could double as agricultural shelters,” Faulkner said.
Historic Hawai’i “is saddened by the Army’s proposal to demolish one of the last remaining groups of Quonset huts in use in the United States,” she said. “This district is comprised of a unique building type that reflects an era in history which relied on innovation and ingenuity.”
But former U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii commander Col. Stephen Dawson said in a Feb. 3, 2017, letter to the State Historic Preservation Division that although the role of Quonset huts in World War II was “potentially significant,” that setting and context, including their historic integrity, “vanished when they were gathered up from various locations across the Pacific and brought to Hawaii island.”
Their placement in Hawaii in the 1950s during the Cold War “begins a new context for these structures” — but no significant events took place at the Pohakuloa Training Area related to the Cold War, Dawson said.
State Historic Preservation took the position that the buildings were eligible for listing as a historic district. The National Park Service, meanwhile, said 34 individual buildings were not candidates for the National Register of Historic Places.
The environmental assessment is available at go.usa.gov/xUWwt.
Faulkner said a “little cluster” of Quonset huts remains at Barbers Point, and a few can be found at Pearl Harbor.
“The facilities at PTA are instantly recognizable as a marker of their time and place,” Faulkner said. “If a soldier or Marine were somehow transported through time from World War II to today, he would recognize the structures, which have held up to the test of time remarkably well.” ___
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