Kihei Charter moves back new school opening

Hurricane Lane delays work; second half of this month target

GENE ZARRO Last-minute delays

Kihei Charter School’s new $17 million campus may open in the latter half of September, later than previously announced, due to delays brought by Hurricane Lane, school officials said.

Construction workers spent two days late last month preparing the 63,000-square-foot building for the hurricane and boarded up the windows with plywood, said Gene Zarro, chief executive

officer of the South Maui Learning Ohana, the founding organization for the school. Work also stopped for three days as a safety precaution for the storm, and the Labor Day holiday took up another day.

“They were minor delays, probably netted out about a week,” Zarro said Tuesday. “They did a thorough job boarding it up so there was no damage. These guys are working really hard, so I have no complaints. It’s a lot of good Maui men and women working on this job.”

The school of nearly 700 students originally was set to move to its new campus in the Maui Research & Technology Park before the new school year began. However, construction was not completed, and the move was pushed back to early this month.

The public charter school, founded in 2001, had been holding classes for high-schoolers at the Kihei Commercial Center, middle-schoolers at the Lipoa Center and elementary students at St. Theresa Church.

Kindergarten and elementary students now have swapped spaces with middle schoolers while high school students are utilizing the Kihei Youth Center, the Pacific Disaster Center, Hope Chapel, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and other facilities.

In an email sent to parents last week, Kihei Charter Executive Director John Colson explained that the school was closed Aug. 22 to 24 because of Hurricane Lane and in keeping with Gov. David Ige’s philosophy of “better to be safe than sorry.” He said teachers were considered nonessential state employees so were told to stay home and to not report to work, as were all other nonessential state workers.

As far as moving into the new school, Colson said “one major item” needs to be completed before the school can be issued a certificate of occupancy from the county — the installation, testing and final inspection of the elevator. He said delivery of the elevator took longer than anticipated and was held up further by a backlog of barge shipments in the hurricane’s aftermath.

The tools to assemble the elevator only arrived recently because they were shipped on pallets rather than in shipping containers, Zarro said. State harbors were prioritizing shipping containers to restock store shelves after the hurricane, he explained.

Many classrooms are at least 90 percent complete and ready for students, thanks to volunteers from Maui Job Corps, Colson said. Volunteers helped move desks and teacher supplies into classrooms on the first and second floors of the building early last week.

“Viewing the building from the outside, work is progressing well on siding and finish work,” Colson wrote in his email. “Interior work on classrooms and office space is happening daily and electrical, plumbing, sheetrock, ceiling tiles and painting are all happening at breakneck speed.”

Zarro clarified one comment Colson made to parents regarding being able to hold classes with plywood covering the windows of the building. Zarro said the building would not be occupied until the windows are installed.

Howard Wiig, chairman of the Hawaii Building Code Council, said Tuesday that he did not know the specific building code for windows but noted that a final inspection is made on all aspects of the building before a certificate of occupancy is issued.

The school still needs nine county and state department approvals to receive the certificate of occupancy, a county building permit official said.

Landscaping in front of the campus has been completed, and work on the second courtyard area along with its irrigation will begin today, Zarro said. School officials “didn’t cut any corners” and are working closely with building inspectors, who have “no issues with our safety record,” he said.

“Everyone is positive and waiting it out,” he said of parents, staff and others. “They know it’s worth waiting for, but there’s definitely a couple things that are just part of the whole construction process.

“Being on an island away from Honolulu makes it a little longer to get stuff and harder to get stuff. But they’re trying hard to get it nailed down.”

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