Molokai High to get new science labs

Students at Molokai High School will get science classroom labs up to state Department of Education standards to replace their makeshift ones in a construction project set to begin this year.

The DOE submitted a draft environmental assessment for the $3 million project Dec. 20; it was published Wednesday in the state Office of Environmental Quality Control’s “The Environmental Notice.”

The project calls for building two science labs, each about 1,730 square feet with a 300-square-foot teacher prep/storeroom in between, the draft report said. Each lab will have eight student lab stations, each with a sink and access to water, gas, power and the Internet. Tables will be movable.

The new 4,500-square-foot building may include a wind turbine, mounted on a tower between 45 and 65 feet high, to provide renewable energy for the classroom, the draft report said. There also may be an 8-by-8-foot rainwater catchment tank. Both the turbine and the rainwater tank could be used in educational lessons as well.

The new science lab building will be located perpendicular to two classroom buildings and a trailer and will be near Farrington Avenue.

Construction is expected to begin late this year, with the project projected to take a year to complete, the draft report said. The project on agriculturally zoned land has received its land use special and conditional use permits from the Molokai Planning Commission and the Maui County Council.

The need for full-fledged science labs for the high school began when the high and middle schools split in the 2004-05 school year. Two separate campuses were created: the upper, mauka portion of the campus became the middle school for grades 7 and 8 and the makai section near Farrington Avenue became the high school for grades 9 to 12.

The new configuration left the science labs in the middle school, the draft report said.

Since then, the high school has used two general classrooms for all biology/life, environmental and physical science, and chemistry classes – and the renovated classrooms do not meet DOE standards for science lab classrooms, the draft report said.

The classrooms are too small and lack equipment for basic science instruction, the draft report said. There is only one sink, shared by the entire class; no gas, electrical and water outlets; and no safety equipment, such as fume hoods and eyewash stations.

“Due to the lack of basic lab furniture and equipment, many lab procedures cannot be conducted, or at best, can only be implemented at a single station. In other instances, students must watch virtual lab procedures or experiments on their computers,” the draft report said.

“Although students are able to observe a third-party demonstration, this passive learning method is far less effective than active, hands-on education. The growing movement for enhanced STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education embraces an educational philosophy involving hands-on, project-based learning,” the draft report said.

Despite the obstacles from a substandard facility, Molokai High students may be found perennially as ribbon and award winners at the Maui Schools Science and Engineering Fair and the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair on Oahu.

The deadline to comment on the draft environmental assessment is Feb. 7. Comments may be directed to the state Department of Education, Office of School Facilities and Support Services, Facilities Development Branch, 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 431, Honolulu 96813. The contact person is William George, and his phone number is (808) 586-0465.

Comments also may be sent to consultant Kimura International, 1600 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 1610, Honolulu 96814. The contact person is Leslie Kurisaki at (808) 944-8848.

* Lee Imada can be reached at