WAILUKU - The Maui County Council unanimously approved on first reading zoning and community plan changes for the 77 acres of the proposed Kihei high school.
The measure changed zoning and Kihei-Makena Community Plan designations for the site, owned by the state, from agriculture to public use.
"I'm thankful to the council for the support," said Don Couch, who holds the South Maui residency seat, noting the numerous agreements necessary to get to this point. On May 9, the council received a formal agreement on zoning conditions for the proposed new high school from the state Board of Land and Natural Resources, clearing the way for Tuesday's action, said Chairwoman Gladys Baisa in her "Chair's 3 Minutes" column in The Maui News on Sunday.
The council, which voted 8-0 with Vice Chairman Robert Carroll excused, expects to hold its final vote on the measure June 6.
A handful of Kihei residents and others, who testified during Tuesday's meeting, all were in support of the zoning changes and amendments. However, some worried about the school's location, mauka of the busy four-lane Piilani Highway, which separates the proposed school from the Piilani Village subdivision makai, where many residents live.
"There has to be an underpass to allow students to get to school, otherwise you'll have tremendous problems of students running across the highway," said Dick Mayer, vice chairman of the county General Plan Advisory Committee, to the council. "I urge you to make it as strong as possible to the Department of Education that the school should not open until that underpass is built."
Council members agreed, noting that there was a consensus among them for an underpass rather than a traffic signal across the main thoroughfare that runs through Kihei and ends in Wailea.
"Underpass, overpass, whatever can be done to protect our children is needed," Council Member Mike Victorino said. "There has to be some mechanism put in before the school is opened."
Couch suggested that the minutes from the council Land Use Committee and council meetings be sent to the DOE to "strongly encourage" them to build an appropriate pedestrian passage across Piilani Highway.
When asked specifically about the underpass, Alex Da Silva, communications specialist with the DOE, did not reveal the department's plans for access across Piilani Highway. He said Tuesday that the department is aware of the safety concerns for the proposed high school and has held numerous meetings with the state Office of Planning, the Department of Transportation and county officials "regarding appropriate highway and road improvements."
"We will continue to collaborate on a solution and keep the community informed of any new developments," Da Silva said in an email.
Hawaii legislators appropriated $130 million for the first of a two-phase project on the land owned by the state. The initial phase includes two classroom buildings, an administrative and student center, library, cafeteria and athletic facilities, according to the council Land Use Committee's resolution for the zoning change. The first phase also will have on-site and off-site infrastructure improvements, including highway grading, drainage and utilities. At the first-phase completion, the school will accommodate 800 students and 120 staff members.
The second phase calls for two more classroom buildings and additional athletic facilities, the committee's resolution says. This phase is expected to cost $30 million, the resolution said.
The school is expected to open in 2018 at the completion of the first phase. When both phases are completed, the school is expected to accommodate 1,650 students and to employ 180 staff.
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.