Kahaluu education center moving ahead

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Plans to redevelop an aged resort area into an educational hub at Kahaluu are making their way through the regulatory process.

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Plans to redevelop an aged resort area into an educational hub at Kahaluu are making their way through the regulatory process.

In mid-September, the Leeward Planning Commission will hear a Kamehameha Schools request for a special management area use permit that will allow demolition of the old Keauhou Beach Hotel complex. The removal of the building will pave the way for redevelopment of the site as an educational center steeped in aina-based Native Hawaiian learning.

The shoreline center, Kahaluu Ma Kai, would develop partnerships with a range of educational organizations, including the Department of Education, charter schools and University of Hawaii, and would be open to a wide cross-section of learners of different ages, regardless of race.

The center will offer outdoor and project-based learning in science, technology, engineering, art and math, along with college preparation, career counseling and other offerings.

“It’s about restoring a place, a people and our community at the same time,” said Jamee Miller, interim senior director for KS education initiatives in West Hawaii. “It will be the piko where our services and our best thinking will come out of.”

The stretch of historical ground is home to five heiau — and in the future could host at least seven new structures, including a 6,300-square foot multi-purpose building that would serve as a gateway to the center. This first phase of the development would be located in the hotel’s footprint, with underground parking, flexible classroom space and multimedia functions. A second phase would comprise a halau, or pavilion structure that would offer a flexible-use area for instruction and camping.

Also in the plans are a 7,300-square-foot hale hoomaha to be used as a camping and sleeping area. A 4,200-square-foot heritage center, a canoe hale and repairs to the existing Kalani Kai building would follow.

The complex was a place of learning dating back to 1400, and those who were to become leaders would go there to obtain professional development, Miller said.

About 150 students are currently served in a tent structure on the property, where student projects have included restoration of the heiau. Capacity at the new center would be close to 400 students.

There is not yet a price tag nor firm timeline associated with the development, said Alan Salavea, KS planning and entitlements manager for the West Hawaii region. Numerous regulatory hurdles remain before the ground can be broken on the redevelopment of the 22.7-acre site, home of the now-defunct hotel, tennis courts, a swimming pool and parking lot.

Approval of an archaeological inventory study by the State Historic Preservation Division is still pending and permitting must also be obtained from the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers, along with clearances from the state Department of Health and the county Department of Public Works among numerous county, state and federal milestones still to be met.

Two years into the planning and permitting process, the center is the top KS priority for West Hawaii and has the full backing of the trust, Salavea said.

The center will be an outdoor living laboratory where the aina is the classroom, he said — and the first KS project of its kind.

“Getting the county’s blessing on an SMA permit would mark a significant step toward realizing Kamehameha Schools’ vision for a 21st-century learning destination in West Hawaii,” said Kaeo Duarte, vice president of community engagement and resources for KS, in a statement.

“Kahaluu Ma Kai is a significant project that can support our efforts to work closely with the community toward broad-based change to improve educational outcomes for Hawaii’s learners,” Duarte said.

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First, the seven-story hotel — closed since 2012 — must be demolished, along with the remains of the old Kona Lagoon Hotel to the south. An EA this past spring found there would be no significant impacts to the environment in a $11.5 million plan to take apart the 300-plus rooms from the top down. The trust would like to start demolition in early 2016. However, that timeline remains a moving target.

The special management area use permit is scheduled for a public hearing on Thursday, September 17 at 9:30 am at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

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