Maui Waena’s new building — after 10 years — is finally open

Maui Waena Intermediate School opened its new nine-classroom building Friday, including its Technology Club room. The 15,000-square-foot building houses classrooms for math, science, music and computer resources. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

KAHULUI — Maui Waena Intermediate School’s new classroom building — more than a decade in the making — is finally open.

Yes, it really is open. No more permits. No more inspections. No more delays.

“We’re beyond excited,” interim Principal Jackie McCandless said Saturday.

Teachers have already begun moving into the new two-story building and will continue to do so through spring break, which begins Monday, McCandless said. The classrooms will be fully furnished by Monday. Students return March 28 for the start of the fourth quarter of the school year.

“I would like to really thank the students and teachers for being so patient and so understanding because they were living on top of each other and sharing classrooms,” she said. “Everybody has been so kind and understanding. While they were frustrated, people weren’t being nasty to each other. They persevered through these struggles, which seemed to be an everlasting extension on the timeline.”

Maui Waena Intermediate School 7th-graders Gwen Jaramillo (left) and Samantha Della carry media equipment into their newly opened classroom building Saturday afternoon. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

The new 15,000-square-foot building boasts nine classrooms for math, science, music and computer resources. It was first proposed in 2005 and was planned to be completed as early as 2009, according to state Department of Education officials.

Opening dates came and went, and most recently school officials had hoped to see the building open before the start of the current school year. That date was pushed to October after a blessing ceremony, then to January. Then school officials gave up trying to figure out an opening date.

It was not until after school Friday that teachers were handed the keys and allowed to officially move into the building next to the parking lot off Onehee Street in Kahului.

“We were just jumping,” media and technology teacher Jennifer Suzuki said Saturday at the school. “We literally went in there at 1:50 p.m. asking Principal McCandless, ‘It’s almost the end of the day. Can we get the key?’ We walked around the office like five times and kept looking in to see if she was at her desk. We finally got in and got the key and were like, ‘Yes!’ “

McCandless said she held off telling teachers when they would get to move in because of the repeated delays. Many math and science teachers were living out of boxes after packing their materials and equipment in preparation for the expected move at the begging of the current school year.

The move will open up space for displaced teachers, including three physical education instructors who do not have classrooms. PE teachers resort to using the field or cafeteria area for instruction and written work. Their offices have been in the weight room and boys and girls locker rooms.

Other classes have been held at the back of the library, in a conference room and some teachers double up in one room.

“Yesterday when it was raining, one classroom used the overhang outside the cafeteria for class,” McCandless said. “These people can actually have classrooms.”

Suzuki’s Technology Club is one of the classes moving to the new building. She has already begun transferring cameras, tripods, desks, chairs and other equipment. The club has 182 students enrolled and averages 65 to 80 students a day.

“It was really exciting,” Suzuki said. “My 8th-graders have been waiting literally 2 1/2 years and they were afraid they were never going to be inside the building. They’re already planning a sleepover.”

All of the classrooms are “pretty much” completed and ready to be used for classes, Suzuki said. She said her room requires the most work, which involves installing dozens of computers, configuring cabinetry and moving countless boxes of media equipment to be put in storage.

Suzuki has already planned the layout for her new classroom, which is double the size of her current one. Two locker spaces at the back of the room will allow her to safely store media equipment that can be checked out to students using a new electronic tracking system.

“For five years it’s been behind my desk in plastic drawers and nothing has ever been stolen, which is, knock on wood, lucky,” she said.

Her new classroom also has a separate area that she plans to use as a sound stage for live sets and interviews. She and club adviser Jon Asato typically used their cars as a quiet place for a recording audio.

“Ask Jon how many times he’s gotten his key locked in his car,” she said. “I’ve gotten my keys locked in my car while it was running. I thought that was the winner.”

Seventh-graders Samantha Della and Gwen Jaramillo were helping Suzuki move into her new classroom Saturday afternoon and are excited to use new equipment that has been in storage. A 3-D printer and 20 new computers have been locked up due to the lack of space.

“I’m really excited,” Jaramillo said. “It’s been so long.”

Della said she is looking forward to the added space.

“Our old room was pretty cramped,” she said. “People can learn better because of the space.”

While club members are eager to fully move into their new classroom, Suzuki is taking 31 students to the annual Student Television Network competition Tuesday in Orlando, Fla. Over the past few years, the club has dominated the event, which is the nation’s premier student video convention and competition, with nearly 3,000 middle and high school students.

Suzuki plans to continue to move in equipment and furniture upon her return, and hopefully begin classes in the building by April 10.

“It’s going to be perfect,” she said. “I ordered this big U-shaped couch. It’s going to be amazing. I want it to be a cross between a newsroom and a Starbucks.”

McCandless credited former Principal Jamie Yap for pushing state DOE officials and others to open the new building. Yap moved to Maui High after Principal Bruce Anderson retired at the end of 2016.

“(Yap) fought hard for this and to get it done sooner rather than later,” McCandless said. “He really tried to take care of the school in having this building in the best format they could give it to us.”

McCandless hopes to hold an event at the end of the school year to review the school’s accomplishments and show the new classrooms actually being used.

“It feels like it’s been a lifetime waiting for this bundling to open,” she said, noting she has been at the school since 2006. “The joke was that I told Mr. Yap, ‘Now that you leave, it opens.’

“I told him, ‘Don’t worry I’ll get this building open.’ Now I get to bask in the new wonders of this addition for us.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.

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