Most Big Isle schools to get piece of $62.4M in state funds


Nearly every school on the Big Island will benefit in some way from the recent release of $62.4 million in capital improvement project funds for Hawaii Department of Education facilities.

“There are various projects, ranging from just a few thousand dollars to several million,” said Justin Fujioka, press secretary for Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

The appropriated funds include nearly $36.4 million for projects to improve and maintain facilities and infrastructure, about $7.6 million in projects to support specific programs, $7.5 million to address inequalities among schools, $5.8 million for projects intended to address overcrowding, and $5.2 million to cover staff and project positions.

The $36.4 million in capital improvement projects represents half of a $72.8 million total in DOE projects that were identified as being needed across the state, Fujioka said. The governor’s office could not provide a detailed accounting of the projects included in the $36.4 million capital improvements list, but Fujioka said most schools in the state were included.

Kohala Elementary is one of the schools to gain from the $7,554,000 allotted for planning, land, design, construction and equipment for program support.

Kohala Elementary was built in 1953, before the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities. Funding will help knock down the barriers on campus by putting in wheelchair ramps around the existing three flights of stairs and constructing an accessible bus stall for its curb-to-curb service, Principal Danny Garcia said.

Kohala Elementary is also supposed to get $80,000 for its special education portable classroom. Construction on the 44-by-24-foot unit began in December. By next school year, students will be able to use this full-size classroom, which includes wheelchair and step access, an office, sink, bathroom and air conditioning. Such a facility will allow the school to provide more efficient and in-depth service for its special-needs students, particularly those considered fully self-contained, Garcia said.

The number of special-needs students fluctuates annually, as well as monthly, at Kohala Elementary because of families moving into and out of the area. The school had 49 special-needs students in 2013 and has 54 this year. As of last month, the school had a total of 413 students in prekindergarten through fifth grade, Garcia said.

Monday morning, Garcia expressed his gratitude for having the opportunity to make his campus more ADA-compliant and having adequate classroom space for special-needs students, which is “a priority.” He said these upgrades help ensure all individuals have full access to the campus and equal opportunities to services.

Also slated to receive funding are Keaau and Waiakea high schools, which will split $300,000 in design funds and split $2,171,700 in construction funds with Waipahu High and Kahuku High and Intermediate on Oahu. Konawaena Middle will receive $697,460 to design a locker room. Meanwhile, all of the Hawaii Island schools mentioned above will split $2,754,840 to cover master plans, land acquisition, staff support and works of art.

From the $7.5 million equity capital improvement fund, Keaau Middle will receive $19,500 for construction of a music building; Kohala Elementary and Kealakehe will each receive $80,000 to design a special education portable classroom; Konawaena High’s science lab will receive $120,000 in upgrades; and Honokaa High’s science lab will receive $100,000 for upgrades.

From the $5.8 million capacity fund, Waikoloa and Kealakehe elementary schools will each receive $700,000 to design a classroom building, and De Silva Elementary will receive a portion of $450,000 to design a temporary facility.

In an interview Tuesday, Waiakea High School Athletic Director Tommy Correa said he was excited to be receiving the funds for the projects at the school, but added that plans for how the money will be used have yet to be finalized.

“We had a preliminary meeting for a ‘Gender Equity’ project regarding our softball field about eight months ago, and since then we’ve been in the planning stages,” he said. “There will be another meeting in the upcoming months to finalize the plans and put it out to bid.”

Among the ideas discussed for the project are adding more accessible parking for drivers with disabilities at the end of the parking lot near the school’s baseball field, as well as installing a hard-surface walkway down to the school’s softball field. The school is also considering installing a bathroom along the pathway between the school’s baseball and softball fields.

Other projects at the school could include construction of batting cages for both the softball and baseball fields, Correa said.

Keaau High School Principal Dean Cevallos said Tuesday afternoon that he was thrilled with the release of the funds, as it will enable his school to update its girls softball field, which is now 13 years old and has fallen into disrepair.

“Right now, it’s estimated that the project will cost about $1.115 million,” he said. “Right now, the field is kind of dilapidated, with drainage problems, and problems with overhang and wires hanging. This will allow us to make some enlargements of the field and fix those problems. It’s kind of a general face-lift for the whole field.”

Currently, the project is in the bidding process, so Cevallos said he didn’t know when work on the upgrade could begin, adding that any construction would have to wait until the end of the softball season in May.

“I’m just ecstatic for my girls to be able to have this upgrade of their field. We expect to see an increase in participation and their ability to use the field. I’m really, really happy for my students,” he said.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at clucas-zenk@westhawaiitoday.com.