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High Hurdles Remain for Kihei High School

As final environmental impact statement awaits governor’s signature, “there is no agreed upon plan to fund the construction.”

September 20, 2012
Susan Halas , The Maui Weekly

The release of a lengthy, 833-page environmental impact statement (EIS) on the long-awaited Kihei High School is a significant step forward in the long and difficult task of building a new secondary campus in Kihei. (View the entire EIS at Maui Weekly's online story at or at

It is estimated that more than 400 South Maui high school students are presently bussed to Central Maui schools on a daily basis--most of them to Maui High School.

Planning for the new school began in 2004. In 2008, the state purchased a 77-acre site for the new campus located on the mauka side of the Pi'ilani Highway near the Ka'ono'ulu Street intersection. But there are still many hurdles to overcome before the facility becomes a reality.

Article Photos

The release of a lengthy, 833-page environmental impact statement (EIS) on the long-awaited Kīhei High School is a significant step forward in the long and difficult task of building a new secondary campus in Kīhei. Above is rendering of the high school included in the EIS package. After Gov. Neil Abercrombie signs the document, the next step is funding. The latest “bare bones” estimate for Phase I is $100 million; Phase II, $60 million, for a total cost of $160 million.
Source: Group 70 International from Kīhei High-School Final Environmental Impact Statement, Sept. 8, 2012

A timeline provided by the Kihei Community Association (see "Kihei High School History and Funding" sidebar on page X) shows that the project has traveled a zigzag route through successive administrations, and financing continues to be elusive.

A Tuesday, Sept. 11, email from Sandra Goya, communications director for the

Hawai'i State Department of Education (DOE), outlined the steps that are yet to come for the school project:

"The Environmental Impact Statement has been published in the OEQC Environmental Bulletin 9-8-12. Gov. [Neil] Abercrombie and the state Department of Health will consider [the] EIS for approval and acceptance. There are no time limits for this action nor public comment period. Once approved and accepted, only a challenge filed in circuit court would be cause for a change."

The latest "bare bones" estimate for Phase I is $100 million; Phase II, $60 million, for a total cost of $160 million, Goya stated.

Once the project is funded, it can be put out to bid, she wrote. After the construction design-build (DB) money is provided or arranged, it is expected that obtaining Maui County permits for the DB may take more than one year.

Also, she wrote, the DOE is working on parcel consolidation of the two purchase pieces into one, which requires a zoning change. The DOE is also seeking a Maui District Boundary Amendment and Zoning change from Agricultural to Urban use.

Asked for comment, State Sen. Roz Baker, a longtime advocate for the project, wrote in a Monday, Sept. 10, email:

"Yes, this [EIS] is a good sign. We had to have the final EIS before the project can move forward. We were hoping to jumpstart the infrastructure construction by securing funds in the supplemental executive 2012 budget.

"The Senate draft contained $20 million for that purpose, but conferees couldn't agree on a high enough bond ceiling to accommodate this project, so unfortunately, it didn't make it into the final budget.

"On the good side, Kihei High School has always been envisioned as a design-build, public-private partnership (Certificates of Participation) project. The DOE facilities staff and their consultant have been working on an RFP (request for proposal) to begin the formal procurement process."

Sen. Baker stated that now that the EIS has been completed, the parameters for such a procurement have been refined.

"I'm still interested, as I know George [South Maui State Rep. George Fontaine] is, in pursuing General Obligation (GO) bond funding for the large infrastructure costs. The DOE is building on raw land and they're not getting any 'developer' contributions like most other school projects--i.e., land donation or improved land.

"If we can get GO bonds for infrastructure, that means less has to go into DOE's general fund budget as 'rent' or payoff on the cost of a private developer building the school."

In later telephone comments, Sen. Baker said she has received inquiries from a number of developers who may be interested in building the school in a public-private partnership.

She also said it was not unusual that appropriations do not show in the budget, because in a Certificate of Participation financing scenario, "the private developer would secure the money and build the school. The state would lease it back over a period of years, pay off the debt and eventually own the building."

This, she said, would be similar to the way Kamali'i Elementary School in Kihei was built in the mid-1990s by the Dowling Company.

Kamali'i was the first school in Hawai'i to be built in a public-private partnership.

Also commenting on possible financing strategies for the school, Rep. Fontaine mentioned ongoing conversations with Wesley Lo, the Maui member of the state Board of Education. Fontaine said that Lo and his fellow board members were--at the urging of Gov. Neil Abercrombie--pursuing ways to build schools more rapidly under a recent program called "The 21st Century School Initiative." (View the initiative associated with this story online at This is also a public-private partnership, but somewhat different than the method described by Sen. Baker.

Rep. Fontaine also said it was important to make sure that the DOE had the most recent population and building projections for Kihei. He said the DOE's present data may not include many of the recent housing and commercial projects that have been recently approved.

Contacted by the Maui Weekly, Lo said that he was optimistic that the Kihei High School would be one of five pilot schools projects that could be authorized under the new 21st Century School Initiative program. He said the Kihei High School has a number of things in its favor: It's on a Neighbor Island, it has the support of the legislative delegation and the community, it has the support of the governor, and it can be built without displacing any existing school, community or students.

Lo also said that he and other stakeholders in the initiative, including representatives from the governor's office, are meeting on O'ahu on Thursday, Sept. 20, to discuss further action.

He added that the DOE facilities branch has a new head, Raymond L'Heureux. Lo said L'Heureux is expected to come to Maui in the near future to meet with the community and update area residents on the status of the school.

The Maui BOE member pointed out that a new law authorizing the formation of the Public Lands Development Corporation (PLDC) gives the state broad new authority to speed up and waive requirements and reviews for building projects on state land. He said that this law could provide additional ability to move forward on Kihei High School.

However, that law has been very controversial and met with unprecedented opposition in a recent round of public meetings. Several Maui lawmakers said privately that they expect it to be repealed in the next session.

Others in the community commented that to tie the already complicated Kihei High School project to the widely criticized PLDC would only complicate getting the school built.

"Whether or not the PLDC is involved," Lo said, "and irrespective of how we do it, we need to move forward."

In the end, it appeared that it all comes down to finding the money with three different financing options under consideration: Finance it the traditional way by getting legislative appropriations and issuing bonds; finance it using public-private financing using Certificates of Participation; finance it in a different kind of public-private partnership using the 21st Century School Initiative program, which might involve the PLDC.

No matter which scenario is selected, the final result is a very large bottom-line number, and that number appears, at least for the time being, to be larger than the administration, lawmakers and DOE are willing to authorize.

In the end, the terse comment by Andrew Beerer, who heads the Kihei Community Association education committee and Kihei High School subcommittee, seemed to be the most definitive: "The reality is that there is no funding for engineering and constructing the school," Beerer wrote in a Sept 11 email. "Furthermore, there is no agreed upon plan to fund the construction."

Absent a plan and any firm financial commitment, Beerer thought the project would be slow going and the previously announced opening date of July 2016 was "unlikely and unrealistic."


Kihei High School History and Funding


2004-07 - Initial Funding

Formal plans for Kihei High School began to take root in 2004 when the Hawai'i State Legislature appropriated $5.5 million for the high school plans and design.

In 2006, an additional $7.3 million was appropriated for land acquisition and design. The project gained momentum when the 2007 Legislature authorized an additional $20 million for land acquisition, and environmental assessment and permits.

2008 - Legislature Lets $20 Million Lapse

The 2008 legislature let $20 million for Kihei High School lapse, meaning it was gone for good, reabsorbed by the state's general coffers and not to be used for the school.

2008 - Site Chosen

The Department of Education (DOE), through a site selection process, chose a parcel of property in North Kihei. The 77-acre parcel is located on the mauka side of Pi'ilani Highway at Kulanihakoi Street. The land is actually two separate parcels to be acquired from Ka'ono'ulu and Haleakala Ranch. Also during this time, the DOE has been holding design charities on Maui. The design charities include national planners, local administrators and other local representatives.

2010 - BOE Moves Ahead

The prospect of moving ahead seemed to take heart in 2010 when the Board of Education (BOE) unanimously approved going forward with design and construction of the new high school.

The Board of Education's Committee on Budget & Fiscal Accountability submitted a report recommending approval to proceed with requests for proposals to design and build a new high school in Kihei. General funds would be used to finance the project at no more than $12 million a year.

2011 - New BOE Reverses Course of Funding

In 2010, Maui BOE representative Mary Cochran retired and the rest of the state's BOE reps emerged from a new election. Maui residents had elected a new Maui BOE representative, Leona Rocha Wilson. After serving only a few months, a new law allowing the governor to appoint the BOE was enacted, and newly elected Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Wesley Lo (CEO of Maui Memorial Medical Center) as BOE rep for Maui.

The new BOE opted against the old BOE's recommendation on funding Kihei High School using DOE operational funds, essentially saying that there is no current DOE funding for constructing the school.

In his volunteer position, Lo has been a proponent of Kihei High School and continues to work with the governor's office in helping to find funding solutions.



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