New community college campus gets its first students

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School started for Hawaii Community College students at their new Palamanui campus on Monday morning.

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School started for Hawaii Community College students at their new Palamanui campus on Monday morning.

Students, faculty and staff largely left behind the rented office space in Kealakekua. There they shared space with a post office, the health department and bar, said Kenneth “Marty” Fletcher, executive director of the campus.

The new campus is more than fresh buildings, he said, as “it will provide an educational landmark.”

The shift is nearly complete, to the point that desks and chairs for the laboratory space was packed over.

But it turned out the lab space would remain behind for a semester while specialty work was completed. As a result, lab classes like microbiology will remain at the Kealakekua campus for one semester. So the tables and chairs made their way back.

The campus has nine classrooms, all of which can be used for distance learning. Three of them are set up expressly for interactive video.

This includes microphones on each desk for students to communicate with instructors. There are monitors on the front and back walls to show the different rooms, which can be used similar to a whiteboard or display by the instructors.

One of the first courses in those classrooms was a pre-calculus course, taught by Denise D’Haenens-Luker while she was in Hilo. Her class was split between a group in her classroom and eight at the Palamanui campus.

Like any first day, there was a flow of students entering before the class started, discovering that math was not Hawaiian studies or English and heading back out, to seek directions with the on-hand faculty and staff.

As the course started, D’Haenens-Luker had to remind the Palamanui students to raise their hands, as it could be difficult to see more subtle gestures over the monitors.

The technology itself was acting up at times, as when a student caused the swiveling camera to scan the room wildly.

Technical staff described the launch as a “series of fires,” but that things were moving more and more smoothly.

The campus will also house 12 faculty members, who brought their office furniture and other contents from the previous spaces.

“We thank everyone who was responsible for Palamanui for their support,” said John Morton, vice president for community colleges in a press release. “UH is committed to increasing the opportunity for higher education in West Hawaii, not just with programs from Hawaii Community College but also by continuing to serve as a University Center to deliver programs from UH Hilo, UH West Oahu, and UH Manoa as well.”

Some of those are online and, in the future, they may bring instructors here for certain days, Fletcher said.

The complex was built as part of an agreement with the area’s developers and was dogged with adjustments, cost overruns and other troubles over a decade-long planning and construction cycle.

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The construction is ongoing and leads some to confusion. The road that connects to Queen Kaahumanu Highway is still only open for construction vehicles and a surveyor was out at work in the rain on Monday. Directions to students were occasionally washed out by the beeps of heavy equipment backing up.

Currently the only road access to the campus is along Ane Keohokalole Highway. There is bus service available.

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