State partners with Corps of Engineers to erect temporary Lahaina school by January

The state Education Department on Tuesday announced a revised timeline for reopening Lahaina schools
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 5:51 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 27, 2023 at 1:42 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Experts say the pandemic underscored just how key reopening schools is to restoring normal life and emotional wellness.

So state and federal officials are keeping to promises on Maui about reopening three undamaged schools in Lahaina after the fall break — the week of Oct. 16.

The Education Department also has an ambitious plan, with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, to get a temporary site built for King Kamehameha III Elementary School by January.

The school was destroyed by the flames in Lahaina.

Even before the fire, relocation was in the works for the historic school, according to West Maui state Sen. Angus McKelvey. “The little kids have to do tsunami drills,” McKelvey said, due to a potential earthquake fault between Maui and Lanai as well as the potential for sea level rise.

“You have king tides that were eating the wall away before the fire that we put money into the because of the iwi there and in the historical district, you couldn’t do ... vertical expansion.”

DOE announces phased reopening of Lahaina schools, construction of temporary campus

Relocating any school in Hawaii could easily take a decade.

But at a news conference Tuesday, Army Corps of Engineers incident commander Col. Jesse Curry announced the timeline, pledging fast action to offer a temporary replacement.

“We estimate this project will take about 95 days,” he told reporters. “This timeline includes working with the Department of Education to finalize the specification and design and finding contractors who will perform site preparation and install those temporary facilities.”

Gov. Josh Green had already been talking about the prospect of opening the temporary campus in early 2024.

“We could be building October, November, December, January,” Green said. “And then when we get through the holidays, we’re hopeful to get kids back in school.”

King Kamehameha III first grade teacher Robert Livermore said the community is excited about the fast timeline. “Hope. That’s what I feel, hope,” Livermore said. “For our west side community it’s a chance for us finally to be back together.”

But Livermore also holds up his crossed fingers.

“Keep ‘em crossed we are still on an island, so we’ll see,” he said.

Until the temporary school is built, Kamehameha III’s community will share space at Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary School. Officials said tests have shown no risk from the air, water or soil there, but for those who feel unsafe distance learning and other schools still be available.

The $5 million temporary school will be on an eight-acre site at the planned community of Pulelehua, which is already in early construction and just makai of the Kapalua Airport. It’s next to a site already promised as a location for a new school.

McKelvey said he wants the temporary school’s infrastructure built to also serve the new school site. “We already had plans to build a school there so why not put FEMA infrastructure monies into that parcel?” he asked.

Meanwhile, there are also dreams for what will become of the current historic campus.

“To do anything but build a monument or a memorial there would be a disservice to the community,” Livermore said, adding the property’s location as the place King Kamehameha III signed Hawaii’s first constitution, establishing Lahaina as the seat of government, also makes it appropriate for the site of a memorial and historic marker.