Under proposal, 3 urban schools would see dramatic redevelopment

Published: Jan. 14, 2020 at 8:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - With huge maintenance backlogs and obsolete school facilities, public schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto is considering an ambitious redevelopment and modernization of three schools in urban Honolulu.

In a proposal to be considered by the Hawaii Board of Education at its meeting Thursday, Kishimoto is recommending Kaahumanu Elementary School be moved several blocks ― to the campus of McKinley High School ― freeing Kaahumanu’s campus for commercial development.

Some parents are concerned about having young children and teenagers on the same campus.

“I walk my son to school. I pick him up after school. It takes me about 10 minutes. It would be a little out of the way to go to McKinely and I’d be worried about the older kids and everything,” said Letitia Sakai, the parent of a second grader at Kaahumanu.

Also under the plan, Kaimuki High School would be rebuilt as part of a “joint-venture project” into a “new state of the art high school.”

“It has vast open fields. It’s very much underdeveloped. The buildings are very antiquated. We need to use land much more efficiently and use higher density,” said Stanford Carr, president of Stanford Carr Development.

The department has been under pressure to identify schools for redevelopment under a law passed almost six years ago.

Act 155 required the Department of Education to begin identifying property that could be developed in partnership with investors to provide public benefits, such as affordable or teacher housing along with construction of modern school facilities.

Developer Peter Savio is in favor of the idea, but said the state should focus on affordable housing.

“I support the concept. Very concerned, though, about how they handle the development, where all the benefits go, and where the wealth that is created by this program goes,” he said.

School board members have accused the DOE of stalling the process because of the controversy that comes from proposals to close schools or privatize public property.

For several years, the DOE was pushing redevelopment of three sites on the east side of Diamond Head, which housed DOE staff but were not school campuses.

In her proposal for board action, Kishimoto withdraws those sites and proposed the new candidates ― Kaahumanu, McKinley and Kaimuki.

Under the proposal, Kaahumanu’s four-acre campus near the H-1 freeway would be “fully commercialized, potentially as a teacher housing venture or some other commercial purpose."

“That corridor is full of commercial uses, and mixed-use residential up above would be an ideal use for that property with easy access to the freeway both going east and west,” said Carr.

Kaimuki High would be rebuilt ― apparently in partnership with a private developer, although exactly what would be built alongside the high school was not described.

The proposals come as the state Education Department grapples with an aging inventory of public school campuses and shrinking enrollments in some areas, including the urban core.

Kaimuki High, which shares space with the SEEQS Charter School, has 27 buildings averaging 64 years old on 35 acres of land.

McKinley’s campus includes 32 buildings averaging 75 years old on 45 acres bordered by S. King, Pensacola and Kapiolani Blvd. It has frequently been mentioned as the ideal site to provide hundreds of new housing units while being redeveloped into a modern campus.

Before the sites could be redeveloped the department said it would hire a community engagement expert “to gather input on design concepts for a multi-faceted, 21st Century campus.”

The submittal said, “Several key legislators have agreed to support this deep community engagement and design process.” That’s important because voter complaints about closing or redeveloping specific school sites has killed most proposals in the past.

If the redevelopment process is successful, it could lead to a process for redevelopment of many other sites.

Department officials and board members said they could not comment until Thursday’s meetings.

But Kishimoto sent a letter Monday to staff, students and families at Kaahumanu and Kaimuki saying the process of community engagement will take 12-18 months.

“The department is continuously looking for innovative solutions to modernize our aging school facilities,” Kishimoto wrote.

“We have many schools that need and deserve modern facilities. This process is a means of engaging communities interested in being the first to be considered for this unique opportunity.”

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