DOE official says long-delayed school addition coming this year
KAHULUI – For more than five years, Maui Waena Intermediate School students and staff have awaited the construction of a two-story building that would relieve their overcrowded classrooms and boost their overall learning environment.
Back in 2005, nearly $550,000 was appropriated for the building’s design and, a year later, $8.6 million for the construction followed.
By 2007, a design consultant had been named with the building projected for completion later that year.
“That’s when the soap opera began,” said Raymond L’Heureux, assistant superintendent for the Department of Education’s Office of School Facilities and Support Services.
“There was malfeasance, confusion, lack of process and no oversight that allowed this project to last this long,” L’Heureux told the crowd of nearly 100 students, teachers and members of the community Wednesday night in the school cafeteria. “When they had the idea to build this I was still flying helicopters in the Marine Corps and would do so for another five years. I watched the Freedom Tower in Manhattan get built in that time – and we’re talking about an eight-classroom building.”
That eight-classroom building finally will be built. Construction should begin by the end of the year, L’Heureux indicated.
He presented the good news to those attending the meeting hosted by the Friends of Maui Waena Intermediate School. The group had invited state and county officials, as well as the builders and contractors for the building, to discuss the reasons for the delay.
Maui Waena is the largest intermediate school on Maui with 1,096 students enrolled this year, which is larger than some high schools in the county.
“Existing facilities are inadequate to meet the DOE’s design enrollment for the school,” according to the environmental assessment for the building. “The proposed eight-classroom building addresses the existing shortage of classroom space and helps to address the projected enrollment growth, ensuring that students have a quality environment in which to learn.”
The report, completed in July, goes on to say that a new intermediate school is “necessary” in the Central Maui area based on projected growth in school-aged children in the area.
So the need has been there for years in a high-growth region of the island, but the new building did not come. L’Heureux laid the blame on Oahu-based contractor Kober Hanssen Mitchell Architects Inc.
Site restrictions on campus led Kober Hanssen Mitchell Architects to locate the two-story structure on the existing basketball courts fronting the school. That required relocation of those courts and a portable classroom – and to split the project into two phases.
Phase 1 covered the relocation of the portable and courts, and phase 2 involved the construction of the classrooms.
The site selection, which created the need for two phases, was one of the major reasons for the delay. The decision required each phase to be bid and permitted separately, which added months, according to L’Heureux.
Given the choice, L’Heureux said he would not have selected the current site because of the need to divide the project.
“When I looked at the timeline I was incredulous,” he said.
The consultant also came under fire for the quality of the permit applications submitted, which had to be revised because they didn’t meet requirements. That delayed the project even more.
Randy Piltz, executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa, said he oversees some of the permitting requirements and complained about the permit applications submitted by the contractor.
“I can only do so much,” he said. “If I get crap in, I can’t expedite the process.”
L’Heureux, who has been on the job for more than a year, said that he has been on the back of the contractor to get construction started.
“I’ve had the contractors in my office,” he said. “I have my facility development guys beating the crap out of them daily to make sure he’s doing it. If I was king for the day, I’d basically fire this guy on the spot, but you can’t because you have to do this entire process again and that’s not fair to you.
“So we have to go through this process in getting these permits and provide the oversight because we got to get this thing built.”
Multiple attempts to contact officials with Kober Hanssen Mitchell Architects were unsuccessful Thursday. Company officials were invited to the meeting but did not attend.
The final permits for the classroom building will be in place in 30 to 60 days, said Dan Blackburn of classroom contractor F&H Construction.
“We anticipate to get this thing done . . . before this year ends,” L’Heureux said. “I will stay on this, and I’ve told my guys to make this the number one priority in our entire capital improvement program. So with a little luck, help from the county and help from the Legislature, we’ll get this thing done.
“You guys have waited too long, and I’ve only been here a year, but I’m embarrassed by this timeline. It’s inexcusable.”
In an interview with The Maui News in April, Principal Jamie Yap said that he expected the building to be ready for fall 2015.
John A. H. Tomoso, president of the Friends of Maui Waena, thanked L’Heureux for traveling from Oahu to attend the meeting and rejoiced with the crowd of students.
“You hear that kids? You’re going to get brand new classrooms,” he said. “That’s your gift.”
The $4.1-million building will not look like the one designed in the 2000s because the methods of education have changed, said L’Heureux.
“From 2005 until now, the way we deliver education has changed drastically,” L’Heureux said. “The industrial way that we would conventionally teach a class, teacher in front, students rowed up all the way to the back, no longer works.”
“Today, with the digital curriculum . . . before (the teacher) can sit down those collaborative groups of students are already on Gettysburg,” he said. “And that is the student-centered, education-driven model that you’re going to see in the 21st century.”
The design calls for three science classrooms, three general education classrooms, a multipurpose room and a computer resource center. It also would provide more than 20,000 square feet of classroom space and help spread out the school’s students.
Although the design and construction funds have been appropriated, more money still is needed to equip the classrooms with new technologies.
As L’Heureux finished speaking, teachers and students said they were excited to see progress on the building.
“I’ve been here for 13 years. I work all the time. I live here,” said 7th-grade science teacher Susan Kihara. “It was interesting when (Yap) was first showing me where the building would be because it’s been on everybody’s mind. We’ve been talking about it, thinking about it, pushing for it, so to actually see it take a little step forward is really nice.”
Kihara, who has an average class size of 28 to 29 students, said most classrooms – particularly those for science teachers – are crowded and ill-equipped for teaching.
Eighth-grade science teacher Jessica Reed was a little more fortunate.
“My classroom in particular is a very large lab science classroom,” she said. “However, my colleagues are in closet-sized rooms. . . . It’s very, very tiny and challenging to do labs for them.”
Along with the small room sizes, some science classrooms are converted woodshop classrooms and in portables that have no lab tables, running water, eye-washing stations or audio and visual technology equipment.
“To have to work in those conditions is really difficult,” Kihara said. “But it’s nice to see the community behind us, and we’re moving forward.”
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.