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Molokai Education Center a step closer to expansion

Final EA released for project; permits still required

The Molokai Education Center is one step closer to adding a new multipurpose classroom building geared toward increasing enrollment and creating more programs at the island’s only higher education facility.

The University of Hawaii is proposing the multipurpose classroom building, which could accommodate up to 250 people, as well as a new storage building and additional parking at the Kaunakakai facility.

The final environmental assessment for the project was released last month in the Office of Environmental Quality Control’s “The Environmental Notice,” with a finding of no significant impact. It must still obtain a number of permits before it can be built.

Located on the outskirts of Kaunakakai town, the education center serves as the focal point for the UH system on Molokai, according to the assessment. About 250 students call the education center their home campus, though not all students attend campus daily due to the center’s distance-learning technology. The campus hosts the largest Native Hawaiian student body — over 75 percent — of all the UH branches. The education center includes both the facility in Kaunakakai and the Molokai Farm in Hoolehua.

UH is proposing to add a single-story multipurpose building that would connect to the existing building by a covered walkway. The 3,300-square-foot facility would be able to accommodate up to 250 people for classes, lectures, community events and graduation ceremonies.

Within the building would be three adjacent, 800-square-foot multipurpose bays, with walls that could open and allow all three to be combined into a larger, flexible meeting and learning space. The building also would include three gender-neutral restrooms, an electrical and telecom room and a storage room.

Architects also designed the building’s roof for “optimum solar exposure,” allowing for a future photovoltaic system.

The education center currently offers most on-campus classes from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The multipurpose building would expand on-campus capacity from:

– 15 to 18 classes per day.

– 100 to 160 students in those 18 classes.

– 10 staff, five student workers and five lectures to 10 staff, seven student workers and eight lectures.

– 15 other people coming for appointments, meetings, to use the library, etc., to 25 people.

– 150 people across campus Monday to Thursday over a 12-hour period to 220 people.

In addition to allowing the education center to increase enrollment up to 350, including distance-learning students, the multipurpose building would help add programs and degrees, expand noncredit programs, increase flexibility with class and lab schedules, provide space for events of more than 50 people and meet modern educational needs, such as more space for computers.

Meanwhile, the new storage building would be located near the southwest corner of the multipurpose building. It would replace an existing storage shed used to store grounds and building maintenance equipment and supplies.

And, the existing parking would be expanded from the current paved lot of 36 stalls. The project would improve the overflow grass lot and connect it to the current paved lot to allow up to 24 more vehicles.

The project still needs a state land use district boundary amendment from agricultural to urban, a change in zoning from interim to public/quasi-public, a special management area use permit and consolidation of the two separate parcels. Tom Schnell of project consultant PBR Hawaii & Associates said that the change in zoning and district boundary amendment need to be approved by the Maui County Council, while the special management area use permit must be approved by the Molokai Planning Commission. Neither has a meeting scheduled yet to discuss the approvals.

Construction will start once the project has all its permits and is expected to take 12 months. The project cost is estimated at $3.7 million.

UH-Maui College, then known as Maui Community College, first offered off-campus instruction to Molokai residents in 1970 as part of its Molokai Outreach Program. Hotel operations and liberal arts classes were taught at Kaunakakai Elementary School, and the Molokai Farm, acquired in 1982, offered instruction for agricultural careers. In 1986, the college rented a 2,000-square-foot facility in Kaunakakai, and enrollment doubled.

The college chose a more permanent, 2-acre site in 1993, and opened the current facility in August 1999. A decade later in July 2009, the state Legislature set aside $500,000 for the purchase of 3 more acres; the Molokai Community Plan allows the campus to eventually expand to 15 acres.

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