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By Loida Levinthol & Sean Newbold

The remote location is just one of the hurdles facing those who build pools for resorts on the Hawai’ian Islands. But as watershapers Loida Levinthol and Sean Newbold tell it, sensible practices and a strong reputation can make even the biggest projects run as smooth as volcanic glass.
 The remote location is just one of the hurdles facing those who build pools for resorts on the Hawai’ian Islands. But as watershapers Loida Levinthol and Sean Newbold tell it, sensible practices and a strong reputation can make even the biggest projects run as smooth as volcanic glass.

The new swimming pool at Koloa Landing in Poipu Beach on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, was recently named the number-one resort pool in the United States by the USA Today’s Reader’s Choice Awards. Given that our firm, PICS, Inc., built the pool, we were understandably thrilled to find out it had received such a prestigious honor.

Since the project completion in 2017 this year, we’ve received great feedback. It’s  always gratifying to know that people are enjoying your work. Still, sometimes when you finish a massive project like this, you just want to stay in bed for a month and forget about it. But there’s also a great feeling of satisfaction that comes when completing something of this scope, complexity and magnitude.

In fact, we believe this project qualifies as a massive work of art. It was beautifully designed by landscape architect, Shelli McCelvey, who has designed a number of high-end pool environments throughout the islands.  She has a great handle on the aesthetics for this type of aquatic design in the way she combines island aesthetics with resort functionality. 

For this project she went all out, incorporating a wide range of features and zones to create an environment that has something for everybody, from small children to teenagers to adults looking for some peace and quiet. It’s all there.

ISLAND LIFE

These types of projects are relatively few and far between here on Kauai, but we’ve done our fair share over the years and are always excited when we have the opportunity to tackle something that pushes our limits.

Poipu Beach has long been recognized as one, if not the most beautiful beaches across the nation. The Koloa Landing site has a rich history, which made it all the more exciting for us because we’re also proud island residents.

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On projects of this size and scope, from excavation to completion, we’re always working around and between other trades, ready to step in when we have the “real estate” to move in and get our part of the work done.

 

It’s where the schooners used to offload cattle, lumber and other cargo that was essential to Kauai’s development. Nowadays, it’s a preferred dive spot for SCUBA divers and snorkelers and is an important part of the area’s powerful appeal.

The resort itself is brand new and since its inception has carried some extremely high expectations. The owners and everyone involved with the project knew they’d have to offer a beautiful environment to compete with other properties in the area and live up to Poipu's reputation for luxury and natural beauty. When it comes to aquatic spaces, both manmade and natural, the bar is set very high on Kauai. It had to be special.

The 25-acre property is owned by a small group of investors headed by entrepreneur and author, William H. “Bill” Child. The pool was part of phase 3 of the construction. The massive 350,000-gallon pool is really a system of connected watershapes including a decorative stream, three descending pools, a vanishing edge, three large spas, two waterslides, massive rockwork throughout, swim-through waterfalls and luxurious cabanas – all with a waterfront ocean view.

DOWN TO THE SHORE

The stream serves as the headwater for the entire system. It starts right by the lobby and meanders 300 feet through a lush garden area toward the upper pool. It’s the only part of the system not meant for people. It flows under a bridge where it appears to feed a waterfall that falls into the upper pool. (The stream actually terminates under the bridge, where there’s an up flow that feeds the waterfall.)

All three pools are free form but have very different personalities. The upper pool, which measures 84-by-32 feet, is an adult-only area made for rest and relaxation. It flows over the serpentine 80-foot vanishing edge into the second pool, which is a more vigorous play area that serves as a splash down for the main waterslide and the entry to a slide that takes you down to the lower pool.

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The system works like a cascading series of pools, similar to natural stream and pool systems found throughout the islands. It begins with a purely decorative stream by the hotel lobby and then descends toward the ocean through a series of vertical transitions between three main pools.

 

Two inches of water flow over the vanishing edge, which creates a robust waterfall experience in the second pool. The construction detail on the edge is so precise and the flow so even that when you look up at it from the lower pool, it looks like there’s a fiber optic light across the top, but it’s really just the perfect line form by the water flowing over the dead-level edge. We’re very proud of it.

We had a lot of input with the main slide, starting with the fact we talked the owners out of burying it, which would’ve been a nightmare to build and extremely expensive. We worked with WhiteWater West in Vancouver, which manufactured the slides and oversaw their installation. The main slide winds 54 feet and deposits you in the second pool, where you can take the second slide, 24 feet down into the lower pool.

The lower pool is by far the biggest at about 300-by-100 feet. On the far end of the pool, at the “bottom” of the system, there’s a large lagoon area with a beach entry. Off to the side there’s a splash pad area for the kids with all sorts of lights and programmable dancing fountain jets.

HARD LAVA

Anytime you get involved with a project of this scale, there are all sorts of challenges that you wouldn’t encounter in the residential world or on smaller commercial pools. Just about every aspect of the process is more difficult and more expensive. The sheer size of the installation meant that we had to work with large crews and move in tons of equipment and materials. The logistics alone would overwhelm a company that isn’t experienced with this type of work.

You have to always stay several steps ahead in terms of planning and being ready to step in when the other crews were out of our way. We never want to be “that guy” who causes delays. The biggest challenge was staying ahead of the other trades so we could dig, form and shoot the pools when the site was clear.

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The pool area has a variety of zones with very different flavors. The upper pool above the vanishing edge is all about tranquility, while just below the waterfall created by the edge and the main waterslide’s splash-down area are all about vigorous fun. The spas provide relaxing hydrotherapy while the beach entry makes a perfect place for small children.

 

Overall, this project went in very smoothly with very few disruptions and delays. We worked well with the general contractor, Layton Construction, the general contractor, and there were no major problems or conflicts, aside from a small number of issues and hurdles, which are to be expected during this size operation.

The big physical challenges started with the fact that the entire project is built into a combination of lava and blue rock, which are extremely hard. Most of it was jackhammered out, but they also used dynamite to remove some of it.

Lava rock is very precious here on the islands, so it’s almost always reused in retaining walls and various decorative applications. Much of the spoils from the pool excavation were used by other trades throughout the property.

We removed the lava rock and then refilled the massive hole with compacted fines, and then re-excavated it again so we could form it. The walls were formed out of grade in most places, although we did use the earth as a form in some spots.

The rockwork is mostly “positive carved” faux rock. We bend rebar into the basic skeletal shape of the formation. Then we install a diamond mesh behind it and then shoot with a custom shotcrete mix. We have a crew of gifted artists who carve and finish it, all in tremendous detail.

IMPRESSIVE SCALE

The structure is complicated with the stream, three pools and various vertical transitions – more than 21 feet from the top of the system to the bottom. There are some heavy-duty structural walls beneath the pool, including the structure that houses the equipment room.
Not surprising, the plumbing was also complex and massive, with pipe sizes ranging from 12 inches all the way down to inch and a half.

The bold design meanders and cascades toward the Pacific on beautiful Poipu Beach.
The bold design meanders and cascades toward the Pacific on beautiful Poipu Beach.
Again, the big challenge with the plumbing was making sure we had the clear real estate to do the work of trenching and then laying the pipe.

The equipment set is equally impressive, the two upper pools are on one system, the lower pool has its own equipment set as do all of the three spas. There are 30+ pumps total, all variable speed, from Paul Hackett with H2Flow.

Rather than have a massive master control system, we designed the system so that it uses the pumps’ onboard technology, which provides all the necessary functions and settings.

The chemical treatment is a combination of salt, calcium hypochlorite and ozone from ClearWater Tech, all controlled by and ORP system.

The pool shells used an impressive 1,500-plus yards of shotcrete, with hundreds of yards of hand-mixed concrete for the rockwork. We moved quickly shooting 100-to-150 yards per day moving from top to bottom of the system. The steel installers had a hard time staying ahead of the shotcrete because our crews were so efficient.

The interior surface is a pre-mix, pozzolan-enhanced plaster from Finest Finish Pools. We started using this finish because it’s very easy to apply and it cures very slowly to an ultra-durable surface. We used a custom light blue/gray color that gives the water a beautiful deep lagoon-like quality. It’s very inviting.

REMOTE CHALLENGE

Working on the islands, you always need to plan ahead because everything you need for the project has to be shipped in, and that takes time. We have concrete plants on the island, but everything else – every length of pipe, piece of tile and bundle of rebar – has to travel across the Pacific Ocean.

Staffing the crews for a project this size is another big hurdle. We went from a company of a dozen people to more than 60 practically overnight. Again, on an island there’s a limited skilled labor pool, which means you have to know people and network to hire the people you need. That ultimate means you must maintain a strong reputation and have positive relationships with skilled laborers and artisans throughout the island.

We wound up tapping just about everyone we knew and had some great luck along the way. We had some key people really step up and do a great job on a challenging project. Big-time credit and Mahalo to Kent Bridgeford, our superintendent, and John Horrigan, the project coordinator, and sculpture artist, Josh Huntoon. They were amazing start to finish as were among a number of people who performed at an extremely high level.

We would also ike to express our greatest thanks most especially to Todd Hadley, President of Koloa Landing Resort, Brady Edwards, Sr. Project Manager for Layton Construction and Joey Ventura for his team of masons and plasterers!

All said and done, we couldn’t hope for a more beautiful project or a smoother installation process. The pool now stands as one of the most beautiful in Hawaii and if you believe USA Today’s readers, # 1 in the entire nation.

 

Sean Newbold is president of PICS, Inc., builder of high-end commercial and residential pool and spa environments based on Kauai, Hi. A Canadian raised in California, he has been working in the pool and spa industry for the past 35 years. Loida Levinthol is PICS’s vice president of operations. A Hawaiian native, she has been with the company for 13 years and is passionate about creating beautiful watershapes and aquatic environments.

 
 
 
 

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