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Funding for Kihei high school survives a hurdle

Legislative budget still must be approved by both chambers, then signed by Gov. Ige

The $1.1 billion in capital improvement projects that state House and Senate conferees agreed upon Monday for the biennium budget include $63 million for the Kihei high school, which should be enough to open the school by 2022, education officials and state lawmakers said Tuesday.

The funds, coupled with $38 million approved last year, will give the state Department of Education a total of $101 million of the $132 million the DOE says it needs to complete the project.

Monday’s appropriation, if approved by both chambers of the Legislature and signed by Gov. David Ige, “will allow us to get Phase I completed, which should be accomplished by 2022,” Lindsay Chambers of the DOE Communications Office said Tuesday.

The DOE “will get the buildings to open the school” with the appropriation, added state Sen. Roz Baker, a longtime proponent of the high school and whose district includes South Maui.

Similar to the process used for King Kekaulike High School when it opened in 1995 in Pukalani, students will be admitted a year at a time by grade level, with construction of buildings to accommodate the increasing enrollment until the school reaches its full complement of grades, the DOE and lawmakers have said.

“The school will grow into itself,” Baker said Tuesday.

The full project is slated to include 215,000 square feet of buildings to eventually support 1,650 students and 206 faculty and staff, according to the final environmental impact study. The property is located on 77 acres on the mauka side of Piilani Highway at Kulanihakoi Street.

A contract has been awarded for site work to Goodfellow Bros., Baker said. There have been additional delays because the school was being redesigned as a “net zero energy school.”

“It’s going to be a living laboratory,” she said.

The proposed budget hammered out by conferees runs from July 1 to June 30, 2019.

The package also includes $12.3 million for the construction of a new administration building at Waihee Elementary School. Other Maui County CIP items noted in a news release by the state House on Tuesday include:

• $9.3 million for Kaanapali Beach restoration and berm enhancement.

• $3 million for flood damage reconstruction at Iao Valley State Monument. Floodwaters from the Wailuku River on Sept. 13 washed away parts of trails and weakened steep banks along the river.

• $39.2 million for hold room and gate improvements at Kahului Airport.

• $10.5 million for inbound baggage handling system improvements at Kahului Airport.

• $7.2 million for terminal improvements at Molokai Airport.

• $4.5 million for a new rescue and firefighting garage, renovation of the terminal and replacement of airfield lighting at Kalaupapa Airport.

Baker also mentioned $3.5 million for two new comfort stations at Makena State Park to replace port-a-potties.

The CIP projects on the conference committee were managed by Maui Rep. Kyle Yamashita and Oahu Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz.

The conference committee also passed a reported $28.4 billion two-year budget. Included in the budget is about $73 million for the transfer of operations for the three state-run Maui County hospitals to Kaiser Permanente subsidiary Maui Health System. The transfer is set for July 1.

Budgeted items include:

• $3 million in general funds in the first year for working capital or a region-operating subsidy.

• $33.4 million in general funds for operations for Maui Health System.

• $30.6 million in general funds for employee separation benefits related to the transfer of Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital, currently run by the quasi-public Hawaii Health Systems Corp. Maui Region, to the private Maui Health System.

• $6 million in CIP funds for Maui Health System facilities repairs, renovations and upgrades.

“The transfer of operations of Maui Memorial Medical Center to Kaiser Permanente is the largest privatization effort in Hawaii,” House Speaker Joe Souki of Maui said Tuesday. “Once completed, it will mean a more efficient and more effective health care future for the residents of Maui County.”

Souki and the Maui legislative delegation think that the hospital transfer will provide good jobs and quality health care for the people of Maui, the House news release said.

Laura Lott, a Kaiser spokeswoman, said Tuesday that Kaiser will be ready to take over operations of the three hospitals July 1. With more than 95 percent of current staff at the hospitals accepting jobs with Kaiser, “we have lots of on boarding and training to do,” she said.

“It is our plan to improve services and care in the long term, allowing for more people to stay on Maui and receive care,” said Lott.

In 2015, state lawmakers authorized the privatization of the three public hospitals, and the state reached an agreement in January 2016 to have Kaiser operate all three. Ige has predicted that the transfer will save the state $260 million in hospital subsidies over the next decade.

Another closely watched bill, the allocation of the transient accommodations tax, or hotel room tax, to the counties, will be heard at 1 p.m. today at the state Capitol. Maui County currently receives about $23.5 million in TAT, but county officials are calling for an increased share of the pot shared by the counties and the state.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.