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Waiting for Keauhou Beach Hotel to come down

March 18, 2017 - 12:05am

KAILUA-KONA — Kamehameha Schools remains in a holding pattern as it awaits approval of permits that will allow the organization to move forward with the removal of the Keauhou Beach Hotel, making way for a project-based educational complex dubbed Kahaluu Makai.

The hotel operated at a financial loss for several years before closing in 2012 amid concerns that its restoration wouldn’t prove economically viable. Since, Kamehameha Schools has been engaged in the complex bureaucratic process of tearing down a massive structure on environmentally and culturally sensitive land.

Initial projections estimated the demolition process might begin by early 2016, but progress has been slower than expected.

“Everything we can do or can submit has been submitted and done,” said Alapaki Nahale-a, Kamehameha Schools’ senior director of Community Engagement and Resources. “At this point, we are waiting for some of these other triggers to happen so we can take the next step. Leadership is united that the hotel is going to come down as fast as it possibly can while doing it right.”

Up next in the process — which involves the Hawaii County Planning Department, Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA and the State Historic Preservation Division (SHPD) — is obtaining approval of the Archaeological Preservation Plan and Archaeological Monitoring Plan from SHPD.

Crystal Kua, senior communications specialist with Kamehameha Schools Communications Group, said those two approvals along with the approval of the Burial Treatment Plan, which SHPD granted on Feb. 8, are required before the organization can submit applications for a demolition permit and a redevelopment permit to the county’s Department of Public Works.

Once all three are approved, the way will be cleared for the “soft demolition” phase of the hotel removal, which amounts to gutting the building’s interior before bringing down the structure itself.

The county has already approved the project’s interim public access plan and shoreline access to the site will remain available through the protracted waiting period preceding demolition of the 300-plus-room hotel.

Nahale-a said the cost of the structure’s removal remains in the ballpark of the estimated $11.5 million figure Kamehameha Schools cited to WHT in 2015.

Kaimana Barcarse, West Hawaii regional director of Community Engagement and Resources with Kamehameha Schools, said the organization is anxious to move forward with Kahaluu Makai.

His vision for the inclusive educational complex that will replace the hotel is as a piko where prospective learners of all ages and backgrounds can come to experience the brilliance of early Hawaiian thinkers and engineers.

The area is perfect for such an endeavor, Barcarse said, as it long served as home to several heiau. The lineal descendents of those who cared for the heiau have offered guidance as Barcarse and Kamehameha Schools have developed plans for Kahaluu Makai.

“(The site) is a focus point of mana with an educational and spiritual essence. It will be a living, engaging site,” he said. “We want it to become like our Hawaiian university in West Hawaii.”

The area is already being utilized through several partnerships with the state Department of Education, charter schools and immersion schools. Skills like plane table mapping, water quality testing, building hale, maintaining fishponds and doing dry stack are already taught on the sacred lands there and will expand over time.

Barcarse said STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics — coming through a Hawaiian perspective by way of Hawaiian activities will be a central component to Kahaluu Makai’s mission.

“It’s a site where a lot of our culture, our leadership, our learning and our technologies were centered,” he explained. “We’ve got a unique ability right now to bring that back and to elevate the status of our native Hawaiian students, and all of our students in this area.”

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