$3.7 million phase includes construction of classrooms, labs and amphitheater


Makers of standardized tests send those exams to school with specific instructions, requirements that not all schools can meet.

“There’s a very core assumption you will be in a classroom,” West Hawaii Explorations Academy Co-director Curtis Muraoka said, adding the tests specify students should be in desks 3 feet apart from each other, facing a certain direction.

Some of those requirements are “antithetical” to WHEA’s hands-on approach to learning, he added.

But with a new campus opening next summer, the school will be better able to comply with those requirements while still providing students with the hands-on techniques they have come to expect from the public charter school.

The school’s board this week approved a $3.7 million contract with Quality Builders Inc. of Waimea. The contract covers the first phase of buildings, including a science, technology, engineering and math building, a building for science and computer labs, a flexible classroom building which can eventually house administrative offices, restrooms, an outdoor amphitheater and a 20,000-gallon shark and reef tank.

WHEA will be “the only school in the world with a shark tank,” consulting project manager Ken Melrose said.

Muraoka and Co-director Heather Nakakura said they’re in a place of “qualified excitement” about the project moving ahead.

“We still have a lot of challenges ahead of us, not the least of which is servicing our debt,” Muraoka said. “Only recently did the Legislature pass an amendment to the law to allow charter schools to obtain facility funding. We’re looking forward to having something in law that we can go ask for this. We’re hoping that makes a difference.”

The full project is expected to cost between $10 million and $11 million. Compare that with the roughly $300,000 in capital improvements projects funds the school has received from the state to cover facility work since 1996, Muraoka said.

That’s about $130 per student who has come through the school since then.

Muraoka said the current campus, built with sweat equity and volunteers, is bare bones compared to what the school will have at the new location. Grading and site work are slated to wrap up next month. Building construction should begin next month and finish in time for the school to switch campuses next July.

Right now, WHEA sits on the shoreline within the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority, well within the tsunami evacuation zone. The new campus is on about 5 acres south of Makako Bay Drive, the internal NELHA road, and makai of Sopogy Inc.

The new site is about a mile mauka from present campus. The move will reduce airport noise, as well as place students and staff outside the tsunami inundation zone.

Reporter Chelsea Jensen contributed to this article.