Christmas break makes opening for Kahului school portables

Blackened jalousie windows remain outside a classroom building Nov. 25 after a fire reported at 9:33 p.m. Nov. 24. The blaze left estimated structural damage of $900,000 and damage to contents of about $300,000. -- The Maui News MATTHEW THAYER photo

As Kahului Elementary School students head for their winter break this week after a fire burned six classrooms during their Thanksgiving holiday, the Department of Education said that it hopes to have new portables situated on campus by the end of January.

Department spokesman Derek Inoshita said earlier this week that the department facilities branch was in the process of making arrangements for the portables. No cost or firm timetable information was available, he said.

Witnesses reported the two-alarm fire at 9:33 p.m. Nov. 24 at the 57-year-old preschool-to-5th-grade school with an enrollment of 960 students. Firefighters brought the blaze under control by 11 p.m., and it was extinguished by 12:50 a.m. Nov. 25.

The blaze burned the school’s four-classroom F building and two portable classrooms, The burned classrooms housed 2nd-, 3rd- and 4th-grade students.

Public safety officials estimated damage at $1.2 million.

Police arrested a 17-year-old Kahului boy on Dec. 16 in connection with the fire. The juvenile was charged with two counts of first-degree arson, three counts of second-degree burglary, attempted second-degree burglary and two counts of fourth-degree criminal property damage. His name was not released.

In Family Court, the boy was ordered to be transferred to the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility on Oahu.

Police said the investigation remained ongoing.

The community has flocked to the aid of Kahului Elementary. A GoFundMe campaign organized by the school PTSA had raised $10,875 toward a $100,000 goal as of Thursday.

The money will be used to cover student supplies, teaching materials and classroom supplies as well as to rebuild classrooms or put up temporary classrooms, the online fundraising site says.

The Maui County Fire Department conducted a department and community school supplies drive to help to replace school supplies lost in the fire, said Fire Chief Jeff Murray. Supplies included pencils, paper and markers along with a computer and printer/copier.

In other donations, the Hawaii State Teachers Association sent $200 checks to eight teachers whose classrooms were destroyed by the fire.

“I know how difficult it must be for the teachers to lose all their supplies, lesson plans and curriculum in a fire like this,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the teachers union. “We wanted to reach out and try to help them to rebuild their classrooms.”

Lianne Oshiro, HSTA’s head faculty representative at Kahului Elementary, had her classroom destroyed, the HSTA said.

“(We lost) the kids’ school supplies, our computers, the desks, our own personal things like photos and artwork that the kids made for us,” said Oshiro, who has taught at the school for 12 years.

HSTA Maui Office Secretary Cheryl Lawrence, who attended Kahului Elementary, said: “My favorite classroom from my student days there was destroyed, and it’s now the classroom of my grandson, who’s a 3rd-grader at the school.”

Lawrence and fellow Kahului Elementary graduates mounted a classroom supplies drive for students at the school.

Earlier this month, Alexander & Baldwin made a separate $25,000 donation to the school’s recovery effort. The company said that historically, many of the school’s students came from families who worked for A&B’s former Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. or one of the company’s other businesses.

A&B donated the 23 acres at the corner of Lono and Hina avenues in early 1958 for the school, according to a Historic American Buildings Survey by the National Park Service for the original Kahului School, which was located across from the Maui Beach Hotel. The 2011 report said that the current Kahului school opened in April 1960.