When Andrew Beerer first worked to build a high school in South Maui, his children had just started elementary school. He was a member of his PTA at Kamarii Elementary School, and they had just finished handling Friday after the holidays. This was a controversial measure to cut state spending, and the student only attended class four days a week.

Maui county locator map

He and other parents decided that Kihei needed its first public high school. This saves the student from having to travel by bus to his campus in central Maui, which is more than 10 miles away.

In the course of his journey to reopen schools, Bierer spent hundreds of hours in community meetings, flew to the State Capitol to meet with legislators and educational leaders, took legislators on tours of the area, waved a sign. at the new location of the school.

Nearly 13 years later, the State Department of Education is completing the first few classrooms at Kuranihakoi High School and has asked the county for temporary permission to open its doors for the first small group of freshmen on Wednesday.

But officials said on Friday the school was unprepared due to safety concerns, including the need to find a safe way for students to cross the busy four-lane highway.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said in a statement issued by the DOE, “We are at a very important crossroads in this regard.

A member of the Kihei Community Association talks with U.S. Congressman Kai Kahele about a proposal to build a paved road under the Piilani Highway.
Members of the Kihei Community Association, including Andrew Bierer, spoke with former U.S. Congressman Kai Kahele last year about a proposal to build a paved path under the Piilani Highway leading to the new high school. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

The new mayor said the state and county must work together to address “important and necessary requirements” before Kuranihakoi High School opens.

“I am confident that no agency, department, community leader or parent has been shaken by the need to ensure student safety first and foremost,” Bissen said. “At this time, the county will not issue temporary occupancy certificates and will work very closely with the Department of Education to systematically follow the necessary steps.”

expensive construction

The DOE calls it a “state-of-the-art” $120 million campus, but a review of spending data shows that the DOE has put about $200 million into construction contracts so far. . DOE records show it plans to seek another $125 million over the next few years. The agency did not return interview requests.

So Bierer and others have to keep waiting. He’s grateful that the much-anticipated school is nearing opening, even though his own children can’t get in. His son is now attending college, and his daughter is in his senior year at Maui High School. is finishing However, he is also concerned that the campus is not yet ready to welcome students.

Active construction zone. It also lacks some key features such as signage, landscaping, playgrounds, and most importantly, protected pedestrian crossings so that students can cross the highway to get to school. , DOE must build crosswalks before schools open.

“We understand there are still multiple phases,” says Beerer. “But if this is what he gets for $200 million, this doesn’t look good.”

Kuranihakoi High School will continue to operate at the temporary location of Lokelani Middle School until further notice, DOE said in a release, and construction work will continue at the Kuranihakoi site.

In a news release earlier this month, the DOE said it hopes to open the new Kuranihakoi High School campus on Wednesday. Provided by Hawaii Department of Education

DOE hoped the county would accept a temporary workaround: hire crossing guards to station DOE’s $16 million roundabout built in front of the school, or Pay for a shuttle to take kids to campus who would have walked. In a January 9 release, the agency said it was still “committed” to building a free-standing pedestrian crossing at some point in the future, although construction could take three to five years. .

“The DOE mishandled the situation at Kuranihakoi High School, agreeing to build a crosswalk but not planning for a crosswalk,” said Cheri Nakamura of the public education advocacy group He’e Coalition. said in a statement. “The superintendent should admit that a misstep by the DOE has occurred. He must commit to setting an example and pono. (crosswalks) should be built to support the

The situation puts Maui’s new mayor and planning director in a tough spot.

On the one hand, there are local residents who are anxious for the long-awaited opening of the school. South Maui students currently attending public schools must endure frequent traffic jams and travel miles to Central Maui.

At the same time, many Kihei residents, elected officials, and education advocates urged the county to hold firm to the DOE’s compliance with the 2013 order after years of broken promises. I hope

“The biggest problem is the lack of accountability. DOE doesn’t seem to answer anyone,” said a former South Maui state representative who for years advocated funding for the DOE to build crosswalks. One Tina Wildberger said:

Photo of Kihei Community Association members, U.S. Congressman Kai Kahele, and Council member Kerry King walking to the gorge below Piilani Highway. Community members say trails can be built so students can safely cross under busy boulevards.
Members of the Kihei Community Association, former U.S. Congressman Kai Kahele and former Council member Kerry King toured the canyon below the Piilani Highway. Community members say paths can be built so that students can safely cross under busy boulevards. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

Wildberger said he fought for funding for the project and supported community members advocating for pedestrian crossings. Some of them ended up hiring their own transportation consultants to sketch the ideal shape.

But over the years, she said, she has seen the DOE withdraw its words and thwart South Maui residents seeking information. In her view, the controversy surrounding Kuranihakoi High School is just one example of a widespread dysfunction within the institutions responsible for educating Hawaiian children.

“Our taxpayers deserve better,” said Wildberger. “We don’t pay our teachers, but we give the DOE billions of dollars and it’s clear they’re mismanaging it.”

“Really messed up”

The DOE’s announcement that it plans to open the campus on Wednesday said the county’s former planning director said offers to pick up and drop off students and hire crossing security guards would not be enough for her department to approve the permit to open. It was done a month after I wrote. In the letter, Michele McLean said the permit would not be granted unless state land use regulators or the Maui County Council agreed to change the zoning laws that allowed the school to be built in the first place. Built.

She also detailed how DOE officials have broken their promises over the years. For example, in April 2020 she said when the DOE went to the county for a building permit, the DOE told the county that “the pedestrian bridge design has already begun,” and she expected the overpass to be completed by 2022 and 2023. I have attached a timeline showing when it will be built. A month later, the DOE wrote to the county again, reiterating its “commitment to building a footbridge” and promising that it would be “available for use when the high school opens for students.”

By 2021, the DOE appeared to abandon that plan. Instead, it began the difficult process of asking the state’s zoning authority, the Hawaii Land Use Commission, to change its 2013 order to allow the DOE to open schools without pedestrian crosswalks. .

DOE wanted to spend $16 million on Roundabout. The agency, with the help of officials from the Hawaii Department of Transportation, is working to reduce traffic on the highways enough for a small group of students to cross while the rest of the school crosses the rest of the school. claimed to be safe. Built. Transportation officials also said students wouldn’t bother using the footbridge and that it could cost $25 million to $50 million to build an underpass in an area preferred by some community members. claimed to be.

The situation reached a boiling point in October 2021, when state regulators decided not to grant the DOE’s request in a four-hour meeting. Maui County officials told them the DOT was misrepresenting the investigation to support the roundabout. For example, one of which he said was in Texas, he could argue that a study done 20 years ago showed the opposite result that different crosswalks are better suited for neighborhoods near schools. .

The DOE said the new school was designed to accommodate 1,600 students. Provided by Hawaii Department of Education

Meanwhile, one of the land use committees questioned whether the DOE had “misled” Maui County into obtaining a building permit by saying it was designing the flyover. Another committee said the situation was “really messed up”. Before voting to deny the DOE’s request, Commissioner Dan Giovanni said, “As an engineer, I don’t trust what the DOE recommends.”

“I need both”

In the summer of 2022, the DOE finally announced it would launch another investigation. This time, the focus is on gathering community input to decide whether to build a flyover or an underpass and where to place it.

According to a September 2022 presentation, estimates for the cost of the underpass and overpass near the school ranged from $10.8 million, less than the $16 million cost of the roundabout, up to $30.5 million.

Alternative intersection possibilities presented to community members by DOE in September 2022. screenshot of DOE presentation

Bieler understands why the DOE built the roundabout. The four-way lighted intersection in front of the school didn’t work on the busy four-lane highway. At the same time, we needed a way to slow down traffic. The school entrance was just downhill and it was not uncommon for cars to go 60 miles an hour.

“Simply put, roundabouts are transportation solutions. Overpasses are pedestrian solutions,” says Beerer. “And you need both.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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