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Maui High looks to build STEM facility, Autism Center

Building would offer classrooms, lab, outdoor learning and play spaces

Maui High is looking to build a one-story, 14,100-square-foot building for STEM programs and an Autism Center on its campus. Students with the STEM program or with special needs do not currently have a dedicated space for instruction on campus.

Maui High School is looking to build a new permanent facility to house its STEM programs and an Autism Center for Maui District students.

The $13 million, state-funded facility would be built on about two acres — 1.2 acres for the new building and 0.77 acres for parking — and include multiple classrooms for both the STEM and autism programs, neither of which have their own spaces right now.

“You know Maui High, we so strapped for room that it’s hard to run the STEM program in the present rooms that we have,” Principal Jamie Yap said Thursday. “So this would be a big relief. It’ll be STEM-related, and we can be more creative. The kids will have an indoor and outdoor space to work with.”

Having a facility that all Maui students with special needs can access will also be a huge asset, Yap said.

“It will be a lot easier for all of our parents,” he said. “We can pool all of our resources now from the district into one facility — our teaching staff, our monies — and hopefully we can support our students that way and bring the experts in that’s needed all in one place.”

A floor plan for the proposed STEM/Autism Center building at Maui High shows the layout of classrooms, the science lab and outdoor learning spaces that will be available to students.

Both STEM program students and kids with special needs have had to use classrooms designed for other purposes, according to a final environmental assessment for the proposed facility that was published Thursday in the state Office of Environmental Quality Control’s “The Environmental Notice.”

Staff have had to teach students with severe autistic needs in spaces not designed for them and sometimes in off-campus leased facilities, according to the report. With the fifth largest enrollment of all public high schools with 2,100 students, classroom space is valuable on Maui High’s campus, though most students are learning from home during the pandemic.

Yap said that Maui High has about 100 students with special needs who are able to do distance learning, while 25 have been coming to campus for in-person instruction. Another 15 or so kids are enrolled in Maui High’s “Dream School” workplace readiness program.

The proposed 3,300-square-foot Autism Center would include two classrooms, one of which could be divided into an operable partition, office and faculty training center. One of the spaces will have a kitchen to be used as a training tool. The center is expected to have two teachers and four assistants and an enrollment of two to 12 students per school year, the report said.

The Autism Center would be geared toward students who are unable to learn alongside the general population and would be open to all Maui District students in grades K-12, according to the report. Yap said it could serve students up to age 22 depending on their situation. Maui High was chosen because it has one of the largest campuses on the island in a convenient, central location.

STEM programs would be located on the other side of the building, with a flexible STEM/science lab, three math classrooms and a faculty center. A “maker space,” a term used to refer to gathering areas dedicated to creativity and new ideas, has been designated in front of the science lab for future construction.

While Maui High currently has a science building, it’s outdated and needs upgrades including new gas lines, Yap said.

The new one-story facility would cover 14,100 square feet and be built on a grass lawn at the front of the school bordered by portable classrooms to the north, the administration building to the south, a paved driveway and student drop-off area to the east and Classroom Building A to the west.

Outside the facility, a fenced-in area would provide space for outdoor learning and play. A new parking area with 36 stalls would also be added.

Yap said the school was originally looking to do two different facilities with separate funding but decided combining the two would help maximize the funding. He said the new building could help grow STEM programs like robotics and e-sports and even open new opportunities like drone racing in the future.

“It’s pretty exciting,” he said. “We’re looking forward to what we can do to stimulate the kids creatively.”

The project, which was up for 30 days of public comment in late May and June, received a finding of no significant impact from the DOE, according to project documents. Once all permits and approvals have been received, the project is expected to be built in one phase starting around July 2021 and finishing around January 2023.

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

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