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Hawaii Youth ChalleNGe Academy receives $2 million


Two million dollars of state funds will go toward upgrading and renovating the Hawaii National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Academy at the Keaukaha Military Reserve outside of Hilo.

State legislators approved the final reading of HB 1700 Tuesday, a measure dealing with the state supplemental budget that includes appropriations for several Big Island-related projects.

Next, HB 1700 will head to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for approval.

Lt. Col. Charles Anthony, a spokesman for the Hawaii National Guard, said, if approved, the funds will go towards renovations at the new $5 million campus.

The academy has been working out of the Kulani Correctional Facility site since 2009 and will move its campus to the Keaukaha Military Reserve in July.

The $2 million appropriation will go toward renovating the old Hilo armory located near the East Hawaii-based military reserve.

“The armory is being converted into classrooms, administrator rooms, and the gym will be used as a cafeteria as well,” he said.

The new building will house around 120 cadets between the ages of 16-18. That’s almost double their current number of cadets.

The academy is a state and federally funded nonprofit that has two different campuses, one on the Big Island and another on Oahu.

The Big Island campus provides training, discipline and life-coping skills directed at helping troubled teenagers become more productive citizens, Anthony said.

The other campus on Oahu is designed more as an academic setting where as the Big Island campus is geared toward mechanical and agricultural training, he said.

Anthony said GW Construction in Keaau and Isemoto Contracting Co. in Hilo will be working on the project.

The decision to move the campus from the the Kulani Correctional Facility was made in 2012.

The Kulani prison closed in 2009 due to budget cutbacks, and is scheduled to reopen July 1.

Toni Schwartz, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said the minimum-security prison that occupies 45 acres will provide around 94 jobs once it’s open.

Meanwhile, Ohana Hoopakele, a group seeking to promote rehabilitation programs based on Hawaiian cultural practices, is challenging the state’s environmental assessment for the re-opening of the Kulani Correctional Facility.

The lawsuit was filed last year in Hilo Circuit Court and the group alleges the state failed to consider the site as a pu’uhonua, or wellness center, which it asserts is a violation under Act 117.

The act, signed in June 2012, directs the state Department of Public Safety, in coordination with Ohana Hoopakele, to prepare a plan for a puuhonua on state land. It refers to Kulani as an ideal location because of its existing infrastructure and because the area is a place of “deep spirituality for the Hawaiian people.”

The state issued a finding of no significant impact in the EA.

Without addressing Kulani as a location for a culturally-based rehabilitation center, the group believes the report is inadequate.

Schwartz refused to comment on the case.

State officials expect Kulani to house about 200 inmates once open, and will help reduce the number of Hawaii prisoners sent to mainland correctional facilities.

As for the Youth ChalleNGe Academy, Anthony expects the first class to use the new facility to start in July.

Email Megan Moseley at mmoseley@hawaiitribune-herald.com