Dozens of Kihei residents, including parents and children, stood on the shoulder of Piilani Highway on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning to wave signs and draw attention to the need for a Kihei high school.
Yvonne Biegel, communications chairwoman for the Kihei High School Action Team, said South Maui from north Kihei to Makena has a population of about 27,000 residents, with hundreds of high school-aged teenagers who must commute to Maui or Baldwin high schools in Central Maui.
Kihei resident Andrew Beerer, also a member of the group, said there's an urgent need soon for a new high school that would not only serve the needs of South Maui students but also relieve overcrowding at Baldwin and Maui high schools.
James Alger (right) and fellow Kamalii Elementary School parent Aiko Jonas wave to motorists along Piilani Highway on Saturday along with other supporters of a new public Kihei high school.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"We've got a population crisis (in South Maui), with 1,000 teenage students that need a high school," said Beerer, the father of an 8-year-old boy and a 7-year-old girl. "It would take the burden off Maui High School."
According to a news release from the action team, Maui High already has exceeded its design capacity by 300 students. South Maui students now usually attend Maui High, but they can request district exemptions to attend Baldwin, which the group said is at capacity with more than 1,600 students.
Both Central Maui high schools have dozens of portable classrooms, the group said.
Biegel said that the sign-waving rallies were successful in drawing attention to the issue. Politicians with constituents in South Maui who turned out in support of the Kihei high school were Democratic South and West Maui state Sen. Roz Baker, Republican South Maui Rep. George Fontaine, Democratic South Maui House candidate Kaniela Ing and Council Member Don Couch, who holds the council's South Maui residency seat.
More than 75 people showed up to wave signs Friday afternoon and at least 50 people turned out Saturday morning, Biegel said.
"We've had a lot of success," she said. "I love that it's a nonpartisan event. People are supporting it."
Biegel is the mother of three sons, 6, 8 and 10 years old, who attend Kamalii Elementary School.
She said she's hopeful that they'll be able to attend a Kihei high school.
Biegel pointed out that the state Department of Education already has acquired land for the school, located on 77 acres on the mauka side of Piilani Highway near the highway's intersection with Kulanihakoi Street. The location is south of the site of the proposed Eclipse shopping malls and north of the Maui Research and Technology Park.
It's important to get funding for construction included in the state's budget as soon as possible, she said.
"The longer we wait, the more expensive the school is going to be," she said.
Biegel said that the Kihei Charter School is a "great option" for students, but it has limited space available, and it doesn't have facilities such as football, soccer and track fields, which are part of a complete high school campus. The charter school also doesn't take students with special needs, she said.
Laura Marzke, another member of the action team, said she that has two children, an 11-year-old son now attending Kihei Charter School in the 6th grade and an 8-year-old daughter with special needs who attends Kamalii Elementary.
Marzke said that when her daughter is ready to go to high school it won't be practical for her to board a school bus at 6:20 a.m. in Kihei and arrive at Maui High 40 minutes later to attend classes beginning at 8 a.m.
"My special-needs daughter needs the Kihei high school option for academic and community-based learning services surrounded by her classmates and supporters," she said. "Kihei has the population growth now to support a high school."
The idea of building a Kihei high school has been discussed a long time, Biegel said.
"We've been trying to get the school built for decades," she said. "We're hopeful it will happen."
Beerer agreed. "It's about educating our children locally and for generations to come," he said.
He said he's hopeful that his children will be able to attend high school in their own community and not need to spend time commuting 30 miles round-trip to Central Maui to go to school. Attending school in Kihei also would make it more convenient for them to participate in sports and other after-school activities, he said.
The Kihei high school would "build community pride and a sense of unity," he said.
The Kihei High School Action Team, which is a subcommittee of the Kihei Community Association's Education Committee, has requested by letter and email a personal meeting with Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the hope that he would include money to build the high school in the state's next budget. The group had not received a response from the Governor's Office as of Saturday morning.
Biegel said she's counting on the support of Kihei's elected officials to lobby the governor and other lawmakers to push the high school off the drawing board and into reality.
"We need the best minds to come together to really figure this out," she said.
The group notes that South Maui has experienced the fastest growth rate on the Valley Isle, with the resident population increasing 49 percent from 1990 to 2000. And more growth is forecast for South Maui, with 5,000 single-family affordable homes having development entitlements and another 5,000-plus units being considered in the Maui Island Plan.
A final environmental impact statement for the Kihei high school project has been completed, with the campus' cost estimated at $120 million. The group says architectural plans have been approved by public schools officials but two years of construction won't begin until funding is available.
The action team has created another group called the Friends of Kihei High School. Its website can be found at www.friendsofkihei.com.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.