Kihei Charter graduation to be at R&T park

Kihei Public Charter School’s graduation ceremony has outgrown the Kahoolawe Lawn at the Wailea Marriott Resort & Spa, and the school will be moving this year’s commencement to the site of the new campus in the Maui Research & Technology Park, a school official said.

This gives the Class of 2014 a chance “to have a connection to the school they helped build,” said Jen Fordyce, executive director of Kihei Charter, the island’s only public charter school, on Wednesday.

The commencement, beginning at 5 p.m. May 23, will be held at the top of Lipoa Street in the R&T park, she said. There will be a tent on a paved area at the site.

Early Kihei Public Charter graduations were held at Kalama Park and the Kihei Youth Center. For about the last decade, commencements have been held at the Wailea Marriott, she said. Last year, there were more than 500 students, family and friends attending the event, which was more than the venue could handle.

So this year, school officials began investigating other venues, but “none had meaning,” Fordyce said. Then, they came up with this idea for the commencement at the site of the soon-to-be-built school, she said. As part of the graduation, there will be an informal groundbreaking for the graduates to participate in.

Not all of the graduates in the Class of 2014, which will number just under 45, are happy about the change, Fordyce said. Some had come to expect to graduate with the backdrop of the ocean of Wailea, as has been the tradition at the charter school that uses distance learning tools and emphasizes science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Construction is expected to begin sometime next school year, said Fordyce. If all goes right, the new campus could be open in 2015.

At a Maui Planning Commission meeting in December, Gene Zarro, founder and board member of the school, said that plans are to relocate the high school, which has about 250 students, from its current site at the Kihei Commercial Center. Zarro is also the chief executive officer of the South Maui Learning Ohana that owns the site in the R&T Park.

Plans call for a $10.7 million, three-story building on the 2.75 acres, according to published reports. The campus will be 36,000 square feet with 10,000 square feet of rentable space on the top floor to help offset the overhead costs of the school.

* Lee Imada can be reached at