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State funds released for new King Kekaulike baseball, softball complex

King Kekaulike High School’s old baseball and softball practice fields sit idle Thursday. The site will be turned into a new baseball and softball complex that will feature 100 to 200 permanent seats with casual seating available outside the fence, artificial turf throughout the playing area, dugouts and batting cages for both baseball and softball. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

P.K. Higa remembers the fateful discussion with state Rep. Kyle Yamashita that led to blockbuster news last week for King Kekaulike High School: $10.4 million in state funds had been released for a new on-campus baseball and softball complex.

The conversation came a few years back when Higa and Yamashita were looking over the new artificial turf at King Kekaulike Stadium.

“He was on campus and we just kind of walked around — we were going through the stadium, obviously which he was very instrumental with helping us get that,” Higa, the school’s longtime athletic director and former head football coach, said last Tuesday. “We just got into conversation and … I received a phone call that said, ‘Hey, your game today is canceled due to rain.’

“We were looking down there and it’s still kind of clear, but you know baseball is a finicky sport like that. It was nice and sunny up where we were. I said, ‘It’s interesting because normally we get the rain.’ “

That short interaction led Yamashita to look into helping the 26-year-old Upcountry high school in his district through the state legislature, working closely with state Sen. J. Kalani English, to solve the problem of practice and game facilities for Na Alii baseball and softball.

King Kekaulike’s baseball and softball practice fields are pictured Thursday, with the school’s football stadium in the distance.

A big step in that journey happened when Gov. David Ige issued a letter to English dated March 28 that said $10,405,000 has been released by the Governor’s office for a baseball/softball complex on the Pukalani campus, below the gym on a small hill above the football stadium scoreboard — the site currently holds a seldom used baseball/softball practice field.

“It has gotten to design and everything already,” Higa said. “Obviously, it’s a shared facility. It was mostly brought forth through the Title IX effort for girls softball.”

It all started with that casual conversation, which got a big ball of need rolling downhill fast.

“(Yamashita) said, ‘How do you guys practice?’ I said, ‘It’s amazing because sometimes our kids don’t even practice. Maybe we sneak in under the stadium, get some batting practice down there, hitting off the tees and stuff like that,’ “ Higa said. “But ‘fielding is pretty much out of the picture and it would be nice to kind of have a backup field.’ “

Higa said he does not know how long it will be until the stadium complex will be ready to use, but he said it will feature 100 to 200 permanent seats with casual seating available outside the fence, artificial turf throughout the playing area, dugouts and batting cages for both baseball and softball.

When done it will be a major outlet to help with playing space for Maui Interscholastic League games that depend largely on Maui County facilities in the War Memorial Complex and other venues.

“In a situation like this we could have easily moved those games up here, whether it was us or not, kind of like Patsy Mink (Field) is utilized at Maui High,” Higa said. “We started talking about it and a seed got planted. Sure enough, it grew into a little seedling and now we’re about to get the big tree.”

Several attempts by The Maui News to speak with Yamashita were unsuccessful, but English shared credit with his colleague and said in the best-case scenario the complex is about four years away from being completed.

“The goal is to make King Kekaulike really one of the best and state of the art high schools in Hawaii,” English said Thursday. “We’ve done some really large allocations for that school, the largest probably being the theatre that they put in a number of years ago.

“With the baseball and softball field, we put that in the 2020 budget. We’re very pleased that the governor has released it. That means that we can go ahead with the planning, design, et cetera, to get it going.”

English added, “The idea is to make our sporting facilities at King Kekaulike the best that we can and also state of the art. People may say that it’s a new school and there are other schools that are much older and have older facilities — and this is true — but we want to make sure that King Kekaulike remains state of the art, the best that we possibly can because it serves so many people in our district.”

When asked when the first official pitch may come at the facility, English was cautiously optimistic. The next step is for the state Department of Education to start its process.

“I will tell you legislatively the rule of thumb is five to eight years out from when we allocate,” he said. “So, this was allocated in 2020, the governor released it early — he had 18 months, almost two years, but he released it early. That’s a good sign, it took a year off of that timeline.

“Now, the DOE has to get its plans together and go through the permitting phase and you know how stadia permits are on Maui, right? It’s going to take some time to get through the permitting, so I would guess we will probably see construction in about two or three years and everything completed in about four years with an accelerated timeline. If not, about six or seven years.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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