Campbell High overcrowding hits 'emergency' status, school officials say

Campbell High overcrowding hits 'emergency' status, school officials say
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

EWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The largest high school in the state is growing so rapidly that officials say they have no idea where they'll put students if they don't get funding to build new classrooms.

"We are in desperate need of classroom space at this point," said Campbell High School Principal Jon Henry Lee.

Just how big is the biggest high school in Hawaii?

The incoming freshman class has 800 students, the same size as some high schools in the islands. The total student population this school year: 3,049.

"We're going to hit critical mass very soon, where some difficult decisions will have to be made in terms of what we're going to do with our students because they will literally have no place to go," Lee said.

Campbell High School requested $35 million from state lawmakers for a three-story, 30-classroom building. Instead, they received a third of that to design and plan it.

"We need that new building," said Shayne Greenland, a Campbell High School assistant principal. "It was disappointing that we didn't get it, and when you look at the infrastructure in Ewa and you look at growth, they've had to have seen growth coming for a long time."

Campbell was built for 1,700 students. Projections indicate enrollment will be well above 3,000 over the next four years.

There are so many students at Campbell lunch has to be served from the cafeteria and two other buildings. Plus, there are now 44 portables on campus, and the only way to make room for all of them was to take over what was once a neighboring elementary school's playground.

"Unfortunately, the only other option would be to increase class size and that's unacceptable," Lee said. "When you look at the type of learning environment that our students deserve, they deserve to be in a room that is at the right temperature, with the right number of students, and getting the personalized attention that they all deserve."

School officials say classes average about 27 to 30 students now, but they're not sure how long they'll be able to maintain that student-to-teacher ratio if they don't get more classroom space.

"You hate to push anything over 35 -- and when you start getting 40 in a classroom, it really starts to become a safety concern," said Greenland. "With not being able to add other buildings, we also haven't been able to add restrooms. We haven't been able to add parking. Where do we put everything? That's another safety issue."

Even if they got the 30-classroom building they asked for,. school officials say it would only address current capacity -- not projected growth beyond 2020.

"With our projected enrollment growing to 3,600 by 2018-2019, a three-story classroom building would service 900 students all by itself," Lee said.

"Now that could take an entire grade level. Yes, it is a significant amount of funding. We don't ask for it lightly, but again we ask for what's appropriate for our students."

State Rep. Bob McDermott, whose district includes Ewa, believes the situation has reached such a crisis level that he's asking the governor to call a special session to get Campbell High the funding it needs.

"This is an emergency situation for these kids. We failed. The Legislature failed," McDermott said.

He said the state Legislature's decision to allocate just $12 million instead of the full amount the Department of Education asked for will add more time and money to the project.

"It'll be more like four to five years before a shovel hits the ground and that's the reality," McDermott said.

A Department of Education spokeswoman confirmed the $12 million has been appropriated for design and infrastructure work, which includes electrical work to bring another transformer in, the clearing of the existing portables and structures currently at the site, and installing plumbing.

School officials say they've always had the DOE's support for additional classroom space, but what they need now is funding from lawmakers.

"Campbell High School has been in my opinion somewhat neglected for many years, in terms of what we deserve and in terms of classroom space," Lee said. "When you look at our athletic facilities and what has been allocated to other campuses, it's an equity concern."

Campbell isn't the only west Oahu campus coping with overcrowding. Kapolei High School, which was built in 2000, is also over capacity and in need of additional classroom space.

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