Wing may be ready in year at Maui Waena

KAHULUI – Officials with the contractor for a new wing at Maui Waena Intermediate School – which first received state funding for planning and design nearly a decade ago – say groundbreaking could occur as early as Thursday.

“Teachers will believe it when they see it,” said Principal Jamie Yap on Friday. “It’s promising and I’m hopeful. I’m excited just to see this start. When it finishes, it finishes, but at least we can get it started.”

Officials with contractor F&H Construction met with Yap at the campus Friday and agreed to meet with the principal again Thursday, hopefully for the groundbreaking, along with electricians, builders, carpenters and other specialists assigned to the project.

The groundbreaking date is tentative because the project does not have all of its permits, said Dan Blackburn, corporate manager contractor for F&H Construction.

“We have enough to get started,” he added.

The project still requires a building permit from the county, which Blackburn said should be finalized by Thursday’s groundbreaking and meeting.

Rowena Dagdag-Andaya, deputy director of the county Department of Public Works, said she, too, expects the permit to be issued soon.

“The applicant is very close to getting all approvals done,” Dagdag-Andaya said Friday. “We’re constantly working with them, and our county departments are very committed to this project.”

After receiving its permits and ground is broken, construction is expected to take a year.

“I tell people two years, though, because you never know what will happen,” Yap said.

It has been nearly a decade since the state Department of Education appropriated about $9 million for the building’s design and construction. Since then, state education officials have pointed to the lengthy permitting process, site relocation and inadequate work from the architect as reasons for the delay.

Raymond L’Heureux, assistant superintendent for the Department of Education’s Office of School Facilities and Support Services, placed much of the blame for the delays on architects Kober Hanssen Mitchell Architects Inc. during a community meeting in September at the school.

At the meeting, L’Heureux told the crowd that the building would begin construction by the end of 2013, which did not happen. He could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Among the things most recently setting back the project was the cost of construction. The price tag for labor and material has risen since 2008, when the $5.1 million budget was set. After negotiating with education officials, Blackburn received assurances that the project’s construction budget would be increased by about $1.5 million to $6.6 million.

State Rep. Justin Woodson, who represents the Kahului area, said there are policies that allow the DOE to negotiate for more funding for a project like this if there are no changes in its scope. The DOE will pick up the increased tab and does not have to go to the Legislature for more money, he said.

Even with the increase in the construction budget, Blackburn said he still expects a below norm profit margin – less than 6 percent. He said a typical project of this size would garner a margin of 8 to 9 percent.

During Friday’s meeting, Yap showed color swatches and plans for the eight-classroom building going back to 2008.

“It’s now 2014 and some of these things are not even available anymore,” he said of the original designs.

While smaller details and color schemes for the building may change, plans for the basic structure will remain the same as designed years ago, Blackburn said.

The 15,000-square-foot building includes three science and three math classrooms, a multipurpose room, a computer lab and office space for a school community counselor. The new two-story wing will be located in the front of the school in place of the basketball court, next to the parking lot.

“All of this gets relocated with a nice shining building here with some artwork on the outside,” said Yap, gesturing to trees, benches, poles and a fence that will need to be removed for construction. “It will be nice to get support from the community and hopefully, our technology piece will allow us to keep up with everybody else in math and science.”

Mike Blackburn, superintendent for F&H Construction, said much of the “big noise things will be done” in the next couple months before school begins Aug. 1. That includes the demolition of the basketball court and excavation for the footing.

Yap said he has already planned for the relocation of some classes to prevent excessive disruption from the construction during school hours when the new year begins.

Maui Waena’s enrollment is up to 1,100 students, which is among the largest for middle schools in the state.

Yap said the Education Department has added eight portable classrooms to his campus over the years – the latest being a special education classroom that arrived Thursday.

Woodson, who met with the contractor and Yap on Friday, said the portables are a “cheap, quick fix” for the larger problem of overpopulation at the school.

Woodson applauded the efforts by Yap and the community for continuing to push for the new building.

“It was a concerted effort. All of us worked together to achieve the goal of actually getting it started,” he said. “It wasn’t just Principal Yap or myself and Sen. Keith-Agaran, it also was the community who got behind and made sure this project would start. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s very exciting that it’s happening now.”

Yap, who has been at the school since it opened in 1989, said he looks forward to moving his students out of the “cubbyholes” and using the new space to expand school programs and electives.

“I was seriously doubting the fact that this would ever get done and that I might have to retire before it gets completed,” he said. “But now there is hope that I will see this through the end. I’m excited.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at