MEO begins building its new Puunene facility

Maui Economic Opportunity Inc. has begun construction on its new transportation facility located on 10 acres of former sugar cane land in Puunene, according to an announcement Wednesday.

The new transit facility, located on land mostly donated by Alexander & Baldwin, will sit along Puunene Avenue in Kahului between the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum and Zippy’s restaurant in the planned Maui Business Park. A&B donated 5 acres to MEO and sold an additional 5 acres at a discounted price, MEO officials said.

Now, MEO stores and operates its buses on state-owned land on Vevau Street in Kahului, but company officials say that the Vevau Street site is no longer an “ideal” site. Plans for another transit facility began in 2007.

MEO Chief Executive Officer Lyn McNeff said the new location in Puunene will better accommodate operations because it is on land owned by the nonprofit; it is farther away from the ocean’s salty air that deteriorates the buses; and it is a “hub” that allows buses to be easily dispatched to Kihei, Lahaina and Upcountry.

McNeff added that because the current Vevau Street location is in a tsunami zone, all the buses need to be evacuated to MEO’s Wailuku headquarters whenever there’s an emergency.

The new location will allow public transit buses to be resources instead of liabilities in times of need.

“It will give us a home, allow us to preserve our resources and in an emergency . . . our buses will be there to help,” McNeff said.

The new site also will better accommodate the nonprofit’s more than 100 buses, as well as the 27 additional wheelchair-accessible vehicles that the company will acquire next month, MEO Chief Programs Officer Debbie Cabebe added.

The project’s first phase was originally estimated to cost $10 million to $12 million, but the project has been scaled back because of permitting challenges and budget constraints, Cabebe said. After cutting out building construction and landscaping costs, the revised project will cost about $4.25 million, for which the organization already has received full funding – $4 million from the state and $250,000 from Maui County, according to McNeff.

Goodfellow Bros. Inc. has been contracted to complete the project’s first phase, which includes grading, grubbing, installing infrastructure, constructing the bus storage area and relocating existing trailers from the Vevau Street location to the new site, according to a news release Wednesday.

“We are excited to work on this project and help an organization like MEO who does so much good for the community,” Goodfellow Bros. Maui Region Manager Ray Skelton said in a written statement.

MEO is a community action agency with 48 years of service on Maui. Its clients include the elderly, disabled, immigrants, young people and others who are economically disadvantaged. Its services range from transportation and early-childhood education to assistance with the development of small businesses.

Plans for additional project phases would include a wash station, a fueling station and a transfer station for public transportation. Those plans are being developed, Cabebe said.

“A lot of it is about finding the money,” she said.

MEO is “looking at private sources” and has reapplied for federal funding that would help the project secure the funds needed to “move into the next phase,” Cabebe said.

She estimated that the full design of the new transportation facility would be completed within 20 years.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at