Kamalani Academy, a public charter school in Wahiawa, is spending $2.5 million to renovate an old school building using loans, a lease, its foundation, and a management company, Academica Hawaii.
It's set to open in August for 328 students.
"Given our enrollment and wait list, there is a high need for charter schools on this island," said Wendee Hilderbrand, of Academica Hawaii. "If the funding were there for facilities, more charter schools would open."
Kamalani and other charter schools say they're being held back by inadequate facilities and high operations costs.
They were hoping for help from this year's state Legislature, but time is running out as charter schools cobble together their own classroom space.
While charter schools get lots of credit for innovative teaching, the state government has never paid for new buildings or renovations like it does for regular public schools. Charter schools get a per student allotment from the DOE, but no state funding for facilties.
"We were lucky enough to have a building. Some charter schools aren't so fortunate," said Hilderbrand.
But that building was constructed in the 1960s, and now the school is dealing with hazardous materials issues, like lead and arsenic.
Because of the extra expense, the school was not able to build a lunch pavilion, amphitheater and a playground.
"So we really had to bring it up to code. The school stopped being used in 2003 so we had to bring it up to the safety standards for our kids," said Tui Alailima, treasurer for the Kamalani Academy Foundation.
Kamalani will integrate the arts and is focused on Hawaiian culture. It wants to open other charter schools in areas like Kapolei, Ewa, the North Shore and the neighbor islands.
"We have almost 200 kids who are on a wait list now so we'd love to expand Kamalani Academy in order to service the demands of the island," said Hilderbrand.
But the biggest challenge is finding and funding facilities.
Charter school leaders were lobbying hard for construction money, but lawmakers don't appear ready to change the system. They did approve about $10 million for overall funding for charters. It's money the schools will need to operate as well as facilities.