Moving forward


Work on the long-awaited Hawaii Community College at Palamanui campus is expected to begin next year with the hope of opening to West Hawaii students in autumn 2014.

The University of Hawaii on Wednesday opened bidding to contractors to construct Phases 1 and 1b of the community college located in North Kona. Bidding closes Dec. 12; an award will be made thereafter to the lowest bidding contractor.

The first 24,000 square feet of learning space will include classrooms, laboratories and support spaces for 700 students in the culinary arts, nursing and health programs, and student services administration. Construction will likely take 15 to 18 months.

Hawaii Community College Chancellor Noreen Yamane said the university’s 11th permanent campus remains on schedule to open to students for the 2014 fall semester. She referred comment on the construction time line to a university spokeswoman who said construction is expected to commence in spring 2013.

“I anticipate that as soon as (the construction company) is ready, construction can begin on the Palamanui campus,” Yamane said. “It will be sometime in the beginning of the year, hopefully.”

Yamane said a consultant has been hired to develop an academic plan for the 78-acre Palamanui campus to ensure course and program offerings are in line with the community’s interests and needs. The plan is under way and a draft is expected to go up for public review this spring.

About $17.18 million has been secured for the project’s first phases, with $7.5 million of that coming from already released general obligation bonds and $9.68 million paid for by private developer Palamanui LLC.

Roughly 450 students currently attend the University of Hawaii Center at West Hawaii’s Kealakekua campus, which has 12,500 square feet of classroom and office space. Planned second and third phases of the Palamanui campus would bring the community college’s capacity to 1,400 students.

Palamanui, a development north of Kona International Airport, agreed to help build the West Hawaii campus during its land use reclassification process before the state Land Use Commission in 2005. Financier Charles Schwab is a key principal in the development, which has also invested an additional $10 million into area infrastructure.

“We’ve long believed that getting this phase actually built is really going to be the catalyst to future university development,” Palamanui Project Manager Roger Harris said. “This is a really great step forward for the whole community.”

Harris said Palamanui has completed the main access road for the community college, which is a portion of Ane Keohokalole Highway that stretches north from Kaiminani Drive to the campus. Next, Palamanui is beginning work on a waterline and reservoir that will feed the campus and future Palamanui development.

The developer is also completing grading of main roads in preparation for the eventual build-out of the 725-acre mixed-use project.

“The market is still too weak to support our housing sales, but we are putting in the backbone infrastructure to support future development,” Harris said. “When we see the college nearing completion, then we will continue with the (Palamanui) project — if the market is strong enough.”

While the university continues to move forward on the campus, aspiring chefs in the culinary arts program continue their efforts to raise $1 million to equip the new Palamanui facility’s four kitchens, said James Lightner, culinary arts program assistant professor and hospitality division chairman. About $100,000 has been raised thus far.

Donations to the program through the American Culinary Federation Kona Kohala Chefs Association Educational Fund are tax deductible. The program can also use in-kind donations.

Donations can be sent to ACF, P.O. Box 1268 Kailua-Kona, HI 96745. Those interested in in-kind donations should email instructor Jean Hull at Jean.Hull@hawaii.rr.com or Lightner at lightner@hawaii.edu.