State DOE confirms lease of property for veterans facility
Maui High School students may be working with military veterans in the next few years as the island’s medical, psychological and administrative services for veterans consolidates into a single location on the edge of the Kahului school’s campus.
The state Department of Education agreed Wednesday to lease 4.5 acres of land to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the one-stop veterans facility. State DOE officials confirmed Thursday that they are moving forward with the agreement but are requiring the federal agency to provide educational opportunities at the facility for students.
“We would like to have anything that promotes workforce learning in a positive way, especially at the high school level,” department spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said. “But it has to be doable and workable by both sides. We need to make sure it’s the right fit for the VA as well as Maui High School.”
Dela Cruz did not have any details of what the partnership would look like nor could she provide a timetable for the next steps. She said that concepts for the educational program are still in the “very, very early stages” but added that it can be a “pretty good partnership.”
“We are working together,” she said.
Maui High Principal Jamie Yap, who took over for retiring Principal Bruce Anderson in December, said he has not yet been approached by the VA or DOE about the veterans facility, though Anderson “filled him in” briefly about the project, which has been in the works for the past decade.
“Anything related to supporting kids’ education, we would love to be involved with, even if it’s just to have meetings there and a site we can use in addition to our space,” Yap said.
VA officials could not be reached Thursday about the lease agreement with the state and the facility that was announced by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono on Wednesday. However, Ronald Han Jr., director of Hawaii State Veterans Services, said that the final details of the lease agreement should be completed in a matter of days. Han said that the agreement initially was negotiated to be either low cost or no cost to the VA.
“We’re really looking forward to it,” Han said. “We’re glad all the different things are finally in place, and the pieces are melting together. It’s a great project that’s going to do some great service for our veterans.”
Han said that the educational component could be an internship or mentorship program. He said many students need to fulfill community service requirements before graduation, and working at the veterans facility could benefit both sides.
He noted that students would not be doing technical or medical work, like giving vaccinations, but could shadow doctors, nurses or counselors and assist with other tasks.
“We have to make sure we go through the proper screening and consent given by individuals just like any other hospital,” Han said. “We have to work through some of that, but I don’t think it’s insurmountable.”
Col. Lloyd Sodetani, a retired military intelligence officer, has been lobbying to place the all-in-one facility at the school since 2008. He and other veterans proposed the complex be built on unused land along West Papa Avenue and provide educational opportunities for students.
Sodetani worked with Anderson’s predecessor, Randy Yamanuha, regarding using the land, which currently is overgrown and not maintained. The 12.5 acres of land originally had been given to the school years ago by Alexander & Baldwin for agriculture education, but that program ended after a few years due to difficulties finding certified agricultural teachers.
“One thing we wanted to be sure was that we would be able to create an internship program with the medical facility and ancillary services,” Sodetani said. “Today, kids don’t have opportunities for part-time employment or summer jobs, so by doing these internships for credit they can determine whether they want to get into a certain field or not.”
The location of the facility will be next to the parking lot of the baseball field and along West Papa Avenue. It will consolidate the island’s three veterans’ service locations: the Maui Vet Center in Maui Lani, which serves as a counseling center; the state Office of Veterans Services in Kahului, which assists veterans with applications for medical benefits; and the VA’s Maui Community-Based Outpatient Clinic in Kahului, which provides general health care.
Han believes the VA will be sending out its request for proposals for design and construction of the $9.9 million facility next month. Federal officials have said that the building will be 13,000 to 15,000 square feet, with construction to start next year and to last about 18 months.
The VA estimated that the clinic could open in the latter part of 2019 or early 2020. The single location will reduce confusion about where to go for services, travel and overcrowding at the current veterans facilities.
Han said that the facility initially is planned to be one story, but that could change. He added that the VA still is deciding whether the three services will be under one roof or in separate buildings on the site.
“At this point in time, we’re light years ahead” of where things were, Han said. “I think we’re talking over 100-plus parking stalls. That in itself will go a long way to helping veterans.”
Maui County Deputy Planning Director Michele Chouteau McLean said that the veterans facility does not appear to need an environmental assessment for county approvals but will likely need a federal and state EA because the VA is using state land. She said the project also will need standard building and grading permits.
Han said the VA will have to work with the DOE on interactions between students and veterans. Those discussions likely will be brought up during community meetings.
“We need to make sure we protect our students and veterans on both sides,” he said. “The DOE has been extremely supportive of this initiative and that makes a big difference. We feel comfortable this partnership can last for many, many years to come.”
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.