Unmet key safety requirement delays opening of new $120M high school for South Maui

The state education department says it's still working through the necessary steps to safely open Kulanihako'i High School in Kihei.
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 7:35 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2023 at 7:50 PM HST
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KIHEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new $120 million high school for South Maui will not open next week after all.

The state Department of Education said it’s still working through the necessary steps to safely open Kulanihakoi High School in Kihei.

The state Land Use Commission required the DOE to install a pedestrian crossing — either over or under — busy Piilani Highway 10 years ago.

While the DOE works to secure funding, the state Department of Transportation built a new two-lane roundabout in the area instead.

With the help of crossing guards and shuttles, DOE hoped it would be safe enough to open the campus for now.

The DOE needed a temporary certificate of occupancy to legally open the school. However, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen Jr. denied the DOE’s request for a temporary certificate of occupancy until all safety requirements are met.

“I’m certain no agency, department, community leader and parent has ever wavered from the need for student safety first and foremost,” said Bissen. “The County will not be issuing a temporary certificate of occupancy at this time and will be working very closely with the Department of Education to systematically get through the required steps.”

It is another disappointing delay for the community.

“I’m kind of bummed out because I was really looking forward to going to the new campus, but it is what it is,” said Savannah Nolen-Fogarty, freshman at Kulanihakoi High School.

Kulanihakoi High opened to its first students in August 2022 at a temporary site near Lokelani Intermediate School while construction was being completed.

There are currently 34 students in Kulanihakoi High School’s freshman class. They will continue their studies at their temporary location for now.

“In retrospect, in hindsight, we should have just built the overpass, right? But that’s easy for us to say now,” said DOE Deputy Superintendent of Operations Curt Otaguro.

“But we’re at this point now where the school literally almost ready to open,” Otaguro said. “Just be a little more patient.”

The DOE said it is committed to working through all of the necessary requirements to open the school in a safe and timely manner.

“We share in their disappointment for sure,” Otaguro said. “And we want them to be there, and I think we have a lot of passion to do that. But we want to make sure that we satisfy all the safety concerns.”

DOE said the school plans to add an additional freshman class annually until grades 9 through 12 are fully implemented in the 2025-2026 school year.

At full capacity, the campus is designed for an enrollment of 1,600 students.

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