After decades of work and lots of delays, new Maui high school prepares to welcome students

A new high school slated for South Maui will finally officially open after a decades-long effort.
Published: Jul. 13, 2023 at 6:46 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 13, 2023 at 6:52 PM HST
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KIHEI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new high school slated for South Maui will finally open after a decades-long effort.

Kulanihakoi High School will welcome students to its new campus in Kihei on Aug. 7.

“It’s been a true collaboration to get this job done,” said Complex Area Superintendent Desiree Sides.

State and county officials announced on Thursday that the school has obtained all necessary documentation to officially open.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said the county has granted a temporary certificate of occupancy with indemnification from the state.

“As we work together to resolve long standing issues, the safety of our students remains our top priority. Students will be arriving by vehicle only, and not face the street crossing that the South Maui community rightfully raised concerns about,” Bissen said.

A media release issued Thursday afternoon said a formal agreement was reached between the state and Maui County that indemnifies the county “from liabilities that may arise from any items that are not in compliance with the Land Use Commission’s requirements.”

The South Maui campus has been talked about for decades.

However, it hasn’t been to open because the state Land Use Commission ruled that a pedestrian overpass must be built so that students who live on the other side of busy Piilani Highway can get to the campus safely.

While they find funding for that, the state Department of Transportation built a $16 million two-lane roundabout fronting the school in the meantime to slow traffic down.

“We feel the roundabout is a great solution to this area and we honor the Land Use Commission’s conditions. So, we’re going to make sure that we keep working towards fulfilling those conditions as we go forward,” said state Transportation Director Ed Sniffen.

Officials say the $245 million campus provides a state-of-the-art high school facility serving all of South Maui.

“Kulanihakoi is designed to be the center of learning and innovation to meet the evolving needs of our students,” said Hawaii Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi.

The school is only welcoming incoming freshmen and sophomores this fall until they can hire a full staff for all grade levels.

“This school will not only be the center of education,” said Principal Halle Maxwell. “It will be the center of our community. It will be where people have a sense of belonging, which is so important.”

As of Thursday, there are 30 incoming sophomores and 90 incoming freshmen.

“We actually were able to bring our incoming freshmen on a tour just to kind of see where they were going to be as freshmen and just the looks on their faces, and kind of soaking in this environment was really big for them,” said Kulanihakoi High School curriculum coordinator Lauren Lott.

“Seeing the kids come through and just having them get to experience something that they’ve just got to see up on a hill for a couple years now,” said Kulanihako’i High School technology coordinator Jenna Tate. “It’ll be great to see them actually get to experience the school.”

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

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