School overcrowding concerns grow after plans for East Kapolei High scrapped

School overcrowding concerns grow after plans for East Kapolei High scrapped
Published: Mar. 9, 2017 at 9:07 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 10, 2017 at 6:13 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

EWA BEACH, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Department of Education is dropping plans for an East Kapolei High School.

The two high schools now in the Ewa Plain — Campbell and Kapolei — are both over capacity and the area population is growing.

The proposed East Kapolei High was supposed to provide relief. But that plan has been shelved and money is now being used to study a high school site that will eventually be available in the Hoopili subdivision.

Ewa Beach lawmaker Bob McDermott is challenging the legality of the department's decision to unilaterally drop the East Kapolei plan, because the legislature specifically approved money for East Kapolei, which is now being spent to study the Hoopili site.

"Its a bait and switch," McDermott said.  "So the money was appropriated and now being released for East Kapolei and it is now being spent at Hoopili, which is not coming on line in 10 years."

And even when it is built, he said, instead of four high schools of reasonable size the area will be left with three overcrowded schools.

"This is unfair to the children going to these schools in a myriad of ways," McDermott said. "You can only put 15 kids on a basketball team."

McDermott said the Kapolei and Ewa Schools could be three times larger than typical high schools. This not only means larger class sizes, but fewer opportunities for extra-curricular activities and sports because so many students are competing for limited space in those programs.

School officials, though, say the East Kapolei school is not feasible or necessary based on population trends.

The Hoopili site is being provided free by developer D.R. Horton under the terms of the subdivision's development agreement. It is located on the northernmost tip of the subdivision, near the H-1 freeway.

Meanwhile, funding for the expansion of capacity at James Campbell High School is moving through the legislature.

The proposed classroom complex is designed to offer a dynamic learning environment. The three-story, air-conditioned building would feature 27 classrooms, including science labs, a Hawaiian Studies classroom and a culinary arts center.

Campbell High was built to serve 1,700 students, but now there are nearly 3,200 students. There are 44 portables and the school even took over property from a neighboring campus.

"We shouldn't have to be overcrowded, packed into a classroom, and it will reach a point where we can't put any more students in a classroom," said Principal Jon Henry Lee.

Donalyn Dela Cruz, state Department of Education spokeswoman, said the proposed building is a "strategic type of planning and construction for future learning."

But funding the facility has been a challenge.

Last year, the state Legislature allocated $12 million,  only about a third of the DOE's request. Now the state is asking for an additional $26.7 million, since the cost estimate has gone up to $38 million.  The chairwoman of the House Finance Committee says the committee voted on a capital improvement budget that includes $13 million more for the project, but not until fiscal year 2018-2019, because she said the department still hasn't spent the initial $12 million.

Meanwhile, the public has 30 days to comment on a newly-released draft environmental assessment for the project.

"With our enrollment growing to 3,500 students, we have no place to put them, and we're reaching somewhat of an emergency situation if the funding doesn't come in this session," Lee said.

The state hopes to have the complex completed by fall 2019.

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