Panel includes $65M for high school in Kihei

The House Finance Committee has included $65 million for the Kihei high school in the 2015 fiscal year of the state’s biennium, an amount that’s half of what Gov. Neil Abercrombie, the state Department of Education and South Maui’s lawmakers have sought to complete the project all at once.

South Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing and South and West Maui Sen. Roz Baker pledged Saturday to seek the full $130 million in funding as the budget bill, known as House Bill 200, makes its way to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. The House action, though, makes it appear less likely that the school will be a “design-build project” and will instead be constructed in traditional phases.

House Speaker Joe Souki, who represents Wailuku, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala and Waikapu, said via email Saturday that he doesn’t think it will be a problem for the Kihei high school to get the $65 million appropriation for the school’s plans, design and construction.

“Schools are normally funded in phases,” he said. It’s “impossible to spend $130 million in one year.”

Souki pointed out that permits need to be processed, the land prepared, bids sent out and received, and so on.

“We’re only at the starting gate,” he said. “What it does show is a commitment from all parties – the governor, DOE and the Legislature.”

Baker said she was pleased as well with the House Finance Committee action, calling it “an excellent start.”

“I think it’s great that the House included $65 million in House budget bill for Kihei high school,” she said. “That’s the first time the House has put any funds for the high school in their budget. Kaniela did well.

“I’m hoping the Senate will add on to that amount to get us closer to getting the school built,” she said. “Whether the school is built as a design-build project or the more traditional way, the important thing is to get the construction phase started. I will work with my colleagues to keep the funding of this much-needed project on the table.”

Ing, a freshman, serves on the House Finance Committee. Including the high school project in the House version of the budget, even if half-funded, marks “a huge milestone in getting this project off the ground,” he said.

“I am extremely grateful to my fellow House Finance Committee members who prioritized the long-awaited educational needs of our keiki over projects that may have been closer to home for them.” Ing said.

What makes the move significant for South Maui is that many House members are getting only six- or seven-figure appropriations for capital improvements in their districts, Ing said. “We’re really fortunate.”

Ing credited the success of getting the project funded by the committee with more than 500 pieces of testimony submitted to the panel by Maui residents, mostly from South Maui.

“We were successful only because of massive community support,” he said. “The House included exactly half of the $130 million needed to complete the project, and the Senate can supplement that amount. Even if no money is added, $65,000,000 is much more than enough to get the tractors out and dust fences up by next fall.”

In December, Abercrombie submitted his budget to the Legislature, including $130 million for the Kihei high school. The proposal was the largest single project, in terms of cost, in the administration’s biennium budget.

Building the school, all at once in the so-called “design-build” plan, would save the state approximately $20 million, according to Baker.

She and Ing told South Maui residents earlier this month that the high school project faced competition from projects seeking funding statewide. Other lawmakers were advocating the more traditional, phased-in approach to leave more money available for projects statewide, they said.

The design-build approach was used to build Kamali’i Elementary School in Kihei in the 1990s. It allows a single contractor to design and build the project for the state. The traditional method calls for a phased-in buildout; sometimes with different designers and contractors.

While the new high school would most impact students from South Maui who now commute to Maui and Baldwin high schools, the project would help alleviate overcrowding at the Central Maui campuses. It also would make it easier for South Maui students to participate in after-school extracurricular activities, such as interscholastic sports.

* Brian Perry can be reached at