Conference tackles bringing aging schools into 21st Century

Published: Jan. 14, 2012 at 9:41 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 15, 2012 at 1:05 PM HST
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Randy Moore, assistant school superintendent for facilities and support services
Randy Moore, assistant school superintendent for facilities and support services
Mary Filardo of the group 21st Century School Fund
Mary Filardo of the group 21st Century School Fund

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Farrington High School in Kalihi was built in the 1930s. Work just got underway last month to bring it into the 21st Century. And that's the challenge the Department of Education has for all its schools.

Farrington is the second-largest high school in the state, and among one of the most run-down. But it's not alone.

"We've got 255 existing schools, a majority of which were built more than 50 years ago, and they are no longer adequate in terms of basic things like electricity," said Randy Moore, assistant school superintendent for facilities and support services.

That electricity is now used to power things like computers. Some classrooms in the past have had as few as four electrical outlets. Newer ones, like those at Kapolei High School or Ewa Makai Elementary, can have as many as 24 outlets.

"It's not simply running some wires around to put in the other 20, but you've got to get wires to the classroom. You get wires to the campus. And in some places you don't have enough electricity in the street to do it," said Moore.

At the same time, Hawaii ranks 50th among the states in the amount spent on school facilities in the last 15 years.

"You've spent about $300 a student on capital outlay," said Mary Filardo of the group 21st Century School Fund. "Nationally over four years, the average was a thousand."

The Council of Educational Facility Planners International, a national organization, sponsored a conference entitled "Facilities Matter: The Case For 21st Century Schools," attended by school officials, lawmakers and building and construction industry representatives, discussing not just how to bring schools to the present, but creative ways to fund the process.

"We said that we had some underutilized land," said Filardo about her experience in Washington, D.C. "And we had some revenue we could generate from the development of land that would, through propriety taxes and through lease payments or sale, that could generate revenue, and we used this to rebuild this -- my children's elementary school."

"Simply bringing all our schools up to snuff without changing any of the physical layout of the schools is probably a billion dollars. I mean that's a significant amount of money," said Moore. He said the cost to rehabilitate Farrington alone is $100 million. "So we've probably got two dozen schools that are equal in Farrington to the age of facilities and the lack of modern both infrastructure and space."

Education officials also say it would take long-term planning.

"Although it may appear to cost a little more in the beginning, if its master planned appropriately, with the appropriate collaborations, it think it could in theory be cheaper in the long run," said Wesley Lo, who chairs the finance and infrastructure committee on the state Board of Education.

Officials acknowledge that bringing schools into the 21st Century will take some time. For example, the work at Farrington is expected to take at least a decade.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.