HONOLULU (AP) – Kawaiahao Church was cautioned more than four years ago that construction on its $17.5 million multipurpose center could unearth human remains.

An April 2005 report written by a church consultant, Cultural Surveys Hawaii Inc., urged Kawaiahao officials to conduct a subsurface archaeological study to determine the presence of bones and artifacts.

The church did not agree and began construction on the 30,000-square-foot center. But work was halted in March after workers unearthed 69 remains, mostly intact coffins.

That discovery is one of the largest on Oahu, exceeding those found at Wal-Mart’s Keeaumoku location and the Ward Village Shops in Kakaako, whose building plans were delayed for months.

Dawn Chang, a cultural consultant for the church, said the 2005 study isn’t applicable today because it contemplated a large underground parking lot. However, the project has since been scaled back significantly and includes no parking lot, she said.

The church anticipated unearthing remains but not in such great numbers, she added.

“I don’t think anybody today is going to say we didn’t expect to find bones,” Chang said. “We just didn’t expect to find this many.”

The 58-page Cultural Surveys report documents century-old burials on the Kawaiahao Church property, including many in the area of the new multipurpose center. It included a 1912 and 1920 land survey for the church that showed the boundaries of all burial plots.

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