An ‘incredible resource’: Plans being sought for Old Maui High

There had been a dream to recapture the glory that had been Maui High School at Hamakuapoko and to honor one of its most famous graduates – the late Congresswoman Patsy Mink, the 1944 class valedictorian.

Now Maui County is seeking proposals to “use and repurpose” the 23-acre campus. It’s offering to grant an entity a 20-plus-year lease on the property for $1 per year. Those submitting proposals will need to provide financial and other proof they can accomplish their goals.

The request for proposal provides a clean slate for new entities to propose a plan for the former campus with a view of Maui’s north shore, Maui County Office of Economic Development Director Teena Rasmussen said Thursday.

“We’re not holding them to any previous plans,” she said.

However, new plans will need to abide by a 2010 executive order that put the property under Maui County’s jurisdiction and provided that it must be used for social services, education or agricultural purposes.

The county has been paying the Friends of Old Maui High School $80,000 a year to do basic maintenance, including building repairs, she said.

“They have done as good a job as they could with the funding they have available,” she said.

In a prepared statement, Mayor Alan Arakawa said a new plan for his alma mater “is something that has been needed for a very long time.”

“The county has spent several million dollars over the years just paying for basic maintenance,” he said. “We decided to take the approach that the private sector might come up with some innovative ways to use this grand old campus if we made the lease attractive enough.

“We already have several inquiries, and we are looking forward to seeing what kinds of projects are proposed.”

The proposals will need to address serious infrastructure problems at the campus, Rasmussen said.

“There is no potable drinking water or adequate fire protection and a septic system will need to be installed,” she said. “But none of these infrastructure needs are insurmountable. The county will work with the winning proposer to ensure a successful outcome.”

Rasmussen said those submitting proposals are being encouraged to review earlier plans for the Old Maui High property as a way of grasping the site’s infrastructure challenges, but not to direct new planning for the property.

“At this point, we’re leaving it as open as possible so we can see what’s out there,” she said.

Friends President Roslyn Lightfoot said the group worked with the Office of Economic Development to draft the request for a proposal package.

“It’s time that someone utilize the property,” she said. “We’re all very excited.”

Lightfoot said she hopes that whoever comes up with the successful proposal has the ability to put in needed infrastructure, including potable water and wastewater systems, and “save the buildings.”

The campus is “an incredible resource,” she said. “It needs the infrastructure to make it accessible.”

Lightfoot said she hopes the successful proposal will call for restoring the Charles W. Dickey-designed administration building and include a tribute to Mink.

“I do not believe that it is totally shelved,” she said.

The county’s query says that the request for proposals is not part of a competitive procurement process, and proposals would be evaluated by the Arakawa administration and the Maui County Council.

Established in 1913 to serve the teenagers of Maui’s immigrant labor population, the Old Maui High School educated generations of Valley Isle judges, elected officials, and civic, business and community leaders. Arakawa is a 1969 graduate.

The school recalled a simpler time on Maui when students hitched rides to school on a plantation train and football players ran barefoot on the gridiron. The school’s centerpiece was its 12,000-square-foot administration building, built in 1920 in Mediterranean style and designed by famed architect Dickey.

The school became “Old Maui High” when the campus was abandoned in 1972 with the school’s relocation to Kahului. In the course of more than three decades, it fell victim to fire, vandalism and deterioration.

It became “this place that time forgot,” said Barbara Long, the past president emeritus of the Friends of Old Maui High School, which came on the scene in 2004 with the goal to preserve, protect and rehabilitate the historic campus.

“Unfortunately, it’s out there in the middle of nowhere,” she said Thursday. “It was extremely vulnerable and extremely threatened until we got there.”

The group launched cleanup campaigns, did fundraising and mobilized the school’s alumni to save what remained of the beloved campus. Long said the group wanted to preserve “something of the history of the place.”

Then two or three years after the group formed, a fire destroyed the administration building’s wood floors and roof, and “then it became a shell,” Long said. “It was very sad.”

Lightfoot said the organization tried to have the administrative building added to the National Register of Historic Places, but without a roof it was ineligible for inclusion on the federal register and disqualified for federal funding. Other funding was lost after the Great Recession struck in 2008 and congressional earmarked funding fell into disfavor.

A master plan for Old Maui High completed by Chris Hart & Partners in December 2007 and revised 10 months later called for development of on-site water and wastewater systems, the rehabilitation of the administration building and the establishment of the Patsy Takemoto Mink Center.

According to the revised September 2008 master plan, the proposal to establish the center called for “a unique and dynamic environmental education center that will be a showplace for sustainable living solutions.”

The envisioned facility would have served public and private schools throughout Maui County and the state “by offering a venue for specialized classes on environmental sustainability, good governance, leadership, and job and life skills in a unique, hands-on environment not easily replicated in a traditional learning environment.”

Long said she supports putting out a request for proposals for the former Maui High campus.

“It seems like a really viable way to make use of the campus, if not continue with Patsy’s name, at least to continue with an entity that serves the community,” she said.

She said she hoped it would honor Mink’s legacy by helping the underserved and embracing the idea of “education as a means to a better life.”

* Brian Perry can be reached at