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Waipio Soccer Complex closes for 8-week overhaul

May 4—1/1

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JAMM AQUINO / 2021

All 21 fields at the Waipio Soccer Complex and the 5,000-seat stadium, pictured above, will be part of the renovation process.

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Facilities at the Waipio Soccer Complex closed Wednesday for rejuvenation efforts — putting a pause to recreational play at the park for the next eight weeks, abruptly ending soccer seasons and forcing teams to find new practice and scrimmage venues.

The work, which includes weeding, stimulating new grass growth, leveling surfaces and other repairs, is expected to be completed by late June, in advance of large tournaments like the U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regional Championship in June and the Hawaii International Cup in August.

According to an email from city Department of Parks and Recreation spokesperson Nate Serota, the "ultimate goal" of the closure and rejuvenation is "to increase the quality of the fields to tournament-­level specifications."

The decision to fully close the complex was made by DPR in collaboration with local soccer leagues and other field users, including the Hawaii Youth Soccer Association and the American Youth Soccer Organization.

HYSA President and Executive Director Scott Keopuhiwa said the decision was made at a meeting April 26.

"We were basically told that if we continue to practice, the fields are not going to get better in time for the regional tournament, and they're going to look exactly how they look, which is not good right now," Keopuhiwa said about the meeting, "or we could all agree to shut down immediately."

Serota said that until Wednesday's closure, DPR had attempted to allow limited recreational use, such as reduced weekday practices and select field closures. However, even that amount of play was affecting rejuvenation work.

"It's a large facility, and there's a need for recreational field space across the island, so taking the entire complex has had an impact," Serota told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. "We wanted to try and minimize that impact, but at this point we knew that we had to give it a complete closure of rest in order to really see any type of productive movement in the rejuvenation efforts."

Keopuhiwa said all of the soccer leagues had games scheduled through Memorial Day weekend, and with over 100 games held at the complex each weekend, there was a "big impact." HYSA canceled its Memorial Day Cup, which was scheduled to bring 120 teams, including some from the neighbor islands, to the complex, and is trying to relocate its Hawaii No ka Oi College ID Camp to another park.

"The cancellations are having a huge impact on everyone. Everyone thought they had three or four more games left, no championships had been decided, a bunch of games are just left incomplete," Keopuhiwa said. "It literally affects thousands of players, kids as well as in the adult leagues."

Waipio Soccer Complex is the only soccer facility of its kind in the state, with 21 fields and a 5,000-seat stadium spanning 288 acres. In April it was being considered as a site for a new landfill for the city, before the proposal was denied by the Navy.

Efforts to improve the complex initially began in late 2023, when DPR staff began assessing and addressing various field maintenance issues at the complex.

In an email, AYSO Section 7 Director Bob Strand, who oversees the organization in the state, said that earlier this year AYSO, HYSA and the Oahu League donated over 40 tons of sand for field refurbishment at the complex after DPR said it did not have adequate funding.

"Efforts to continue the Waipio Soccer Complex as the major soccer destination in Hawaii are not limited to opposing its conversion to a landfill and moving practices and games so that the refurbishment of the fields can be completed," Strand said. "It is expected that refurbishment efforts at Waipio in future years may require additional financial support from the youth and adult leagues that utilize the fields."

In a news release when rejuvenation efforts were first announced, DPR said "while regular maintenance is conducted at Waipio Soccer Complex, and all DPR fields, it is difficult to coordinate such extensive field rest and repair due to constant usage from year-round ideal weather."

But Keopuhiwa thinks regular maintenance efforts weren't being done as much as they should have been.

"The fields are now in a state of disrepair where it is pretty bad," he said. "There's probably about four fields that are really bad, where it's like there's more dirt than grass on the field."

DPR said it is considering a seasonal field rest-and-­maintenance program similar to one initiated in 2023 at Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park, which involves a three-month closure for two of the 12 baseball fields each year until 2028.

Keopuhiwa said the permittees who use the Waipio Soccer Complex agree that there needs to be some kind of regular maintenance program but that "working out the details will be the challenge," such as the number of fields being closed and the length of time for which they will be unavailable.

"We also just want to make sure that if they say they're going to shut down the fields for maintenance, that they actually do the maintenance that they're promising. We want to see work done, like the aeration and fertilization and reseeding," Keopuhiwa said. "We just want to make sure that if those fields are taken out of the rotation for any amount of time, that the work that they promised actually happens."

DPR is working to find alternative locations, like CORP or Waialae Iki Neighborhood Park, to accommodate needs during the closure. A meeting discussing a list of other fields with the soccer leagues and other users was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Keopuhiwa said a lot of teams are continuing to practice on the weekdays but that there's no place for them to practice or play games on the weekends because other city parks already are permitted to other people or reserved for other sports.

"It's kind of like your season ended all of a sudden with an email announcement, so it's kind of abrupt for everyone," Keopuhiwa said. "Everyone's trying to scramble and find whatever fields they can, if they can get a scrimmage here or there, but there's nothing that can really replicate games."

Teams playing in the regional tournament in June will be at a disadvantage, too, Keopuhiwa said, because they won't have played in a competitive game in over a month by the time the tournament begins.

But overall, Keopuhiwa said the need for field rejuvenation is one widely acknowledged by the soccer community.

"I think the soccer community all agrees that fields need to be shut down and need to be kept in better shape," Keopuhiwa said. "We're hopeful that the city follows through with their promises."

The complex's first tournament after the rejuvenation efforts, the Far West Regional Championship, is scheduled to begin June 21.