KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - The sign welcoming people to Heeia State Park is old. But the management is new.
Kama'aina Kids officially celebrated its takeover as managers of the state park Saturday with a blessing and grand opening. The state awarded a 25 year contract to the non-profit childcare organization in May to maintain and operate the park, just north of Kaneohe.
"We started here 23 years ago with 45 kids in our summer day camp," Kama'aina Kids president Ray Sanborn. "And now we're taking care of over ten thousand kids a day, and have a thousand employees."
Sanborn said Kama'aina Kids plans to use the park as an environmental learning center. But many of the facilities are showing their age. Kama'aina Kids plans to renovate, or even rebuild the facilities, such as the pavilion at the park's entrance.
"It's a rusted hulk of a building," Sanborn said. "We plan to fundraise and build a brand new pavilion that will be really something that the community and the surrounding partners can enjoy and use as an education center."
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources says Kama'aina Kids will have complete custodial responsibility for Heeia, saving the state money and personnel.
"They pay the utilities, they pay the light and water bills, they do the maintenance, they maintain the bathrooms," said Curt Cottrell, assistant administrator with the DLNR's State Parks Division. "And in exchange for that, they need to generate income off the banquet hall and other programs to step in and do this for us."
The park facilities had been managed by the group Friends of Heeia for 27 years, until their lease expired. The group protested the new agreement, and even went to court to try to block it.
"There's still some ongoing litigation, and we hope it's come to a head and its ended," Sanborn said. "We're hoping for it to be dismissed, and we're looking forward to that day."
State parks officials also defended the decision to award the lease to Kama'aina Kids.
"We went through a formal request for proposals, and the proposals were ranked and scored," Cottrell said. "And Kama'aina Kids clearly had the best proposal for the long term management of the park. It was a clear decision."