Academy finds new home in Haliimaile

Organization was evicted from Old Kula Community Center

Alexander Academy of Performing Arts students practice their moves at the academy’s new studio in Haliimaile. Three months after vacating the condemned Old Kula Community Center, the academy has resettled in a former Maui Land & Pineapple Co. office building, which has allowed it to add classes, teachers and more studios. • Alexander Academy of Performing Arts photo

Three months after being forced to vacate its longtime dance studio in the Old Kula Community Center, the Alexander Academy of Performing Arts has found a new home in Haliimaile that will allow it to add classes, teachers and more studio space in the coming months.

“It’s the beginning of a new era for the school,” said Jen Cox, a spokeswoman for the academy.

The move from the Old Kula Community Center came after the county condemned the deteriorating center with lead paint-coated walls. The academy was notified in late April and had one week to vacate the building.

Constructed in 1935, the Old Kula Community Center and the 7 acres it sits on are owned by Kula Ridge Mauka LLC, according to the county, which leases the property. The academy had a permit to use the building and had been offering classes there for more than 20 years.

Needing a place where more than 200 students could rehearse before a big show June 3 and 4, the academy found temporary spaces at Seabury Hall, Kula Elementary and a private studio in Kula.

Maui Land & Pine has allowed the academy to rent a 2,000-square-foot studio for summer classes. The academy plans to open a 1,500-square-foot studio by August and another 500-square-foot space by January. • Alexander Academy of Performing Arts photo

“That week was kind of emotionally hard because I did want to save that building in Kula,” said Danelle Watson, academy director and teacher. “One thing I’m proud of is what we accomplished as an organization, the handling and problem-solving of where to go in a week, and we’re thankful that Seabury opened their doors to us. . . . We didn’t miss a class.”

Then, a friend of a parent pointed the academy to an old Maui Land & Pineapple Co. office building in Haliimaile that had been unoccupied for five years. Watson said that Maui Land & Pine was willing to let the academy convert the building into its new home and “bent over backwards on their end to put a contract together and allow us to move things quickly.”

Two days after the show in June, the academy moved into the Haliimaile location. Community members pitched in to clean and organize the space so that the academy could open for summer classes.

Over the summer, the academy has been renting the 2,000-square-foot studio from Maui Land & Pine. In August, the academy will add a 1,500-square-foot studio, and by January it will have another 500-square-foot space.

“We love Kula. The history is there,” Cox said. “But this is a much more convenient location for people from all parts of the island to be able to come.”

The future of the Old Kula Community Center, which has been condemned, remains unclear. It had been the home to Alexander Academy of Performing Arts until earlier this year. • Alexander Academy of Performing Arts photo

Because of the location and additional space, the academy has been able to hire three new teachers. The academy also plans to expand its ballet, contemporary dance and jazz classes to include hip hop, tap, tumbling and acrobatics, more styles of jazz and more levels of dance, Watson said.

On Aug. 9, the academy will hold an open house to introduce fall classes and the new staff, Cox said.

“It’s an old space, but it’s a step up for us as far as we have running water. We have level floors,” Watson said. “People are very excited, and it still has an old building charm. It’s working out great.”

Watson said she would have liked to work something out at the Old Kula Community Center, “but we didn’t know what the time frame would have been, and I don’t know how we would have kept the summer program going.” She still hopes the building can be saved.

The old center’s future is uncertain. In 1984, a new Kula Community Center was built on the hill below, with the intention of tearing down the old one, according to county Parks and Recreation Department Director Kaala Buenconsejo. He said that the county is discussing with Kula Ridge Mauka whether to tear down or rebuild the center.

“We’re still assessing what route we’re going to take,” Buenconsejo said. “Funding is a big concern. . . . Does the (Maui County Council) want to fund something that’s not ours?”

A structural engineer determined the cost of rebuilding the structure at around $1.5 million, said Clayton Nishikawa, owner of two architectural firms and managing partner with Kula Ridge Mauka. Nishikawa said Kula Ridge Mauka has “no opinions at this point” as to the community center’s fate.

“As far as we’re concerned, we would agree to whatever the county determined as being reasonable and fair,” Nishikawa said. “Our position would be that the long-term lease agreement is really the overriding factor and the County of Maui really has the decision-making capabilities for this.”

But, “the goal long-term is to work toward having the county own it,” Nishikawa added. He declined to comment on who he thought should pay for the center if the county wanted to rebuild it.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

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