When Carden Academy of Maui first started in 1998, the school had two classrooms with 25 children of varying ages in leased space from Grace Church in Pukalani.
Little did officials know that 14 years later they would have a total of nine classrooms and an enrollment of more than 130 students from kindergarten to 8th grade.
And, they would have a place to call their own.
Earlier this month, the school announced that with a recent $20,000 donation from Alexander & Baldwin, Carden Academy was able to collect a total of $635,000, enough to purchase the 2.1-acre campus from current landowners Grace Church.
"Before as a tenant, everything was year to year, and it's very difficult to operate a school when you're going year to year. . . . This (purchase) allows us to put long-term plans in place," said Alan Battersby, president of Carden's board of directors.
"We have a home now," said Battersby.
Officials' long-term plans include converting the sanctuary into an auditorium, building a new science lab and opening an on-site preschool. They expect to reach these goals by 2015, said Battersby.
In the last two years, the school was able to secure about $70,000 in grants from the state, $150,000 from private donors like A&B and the Schuler Family Foundation and about $400,000 from the board of directors and families.
"The money shows A&B's commitment to the Maui community and to education," said A&B's Director of Leasing Charlie Buckingham, whose three children attend Carden Academy.
While the purchase, which was arranged by First Hawaiian Bank, is a milestone for the school, Carden Academy must continue to fundraise to meet the remainder of its $1.6 million mortgage, as well as to sustain its operating costs, said Battersby.
"Tuition alone does not cover the operating cost of the school, so it's a balance of fundraising and maintaining affordable tuition to keep your enrollment," said Nina Sato, the school's director.
She added that tuition at Carden Academy is among the lowest of independent, nonsectarian schools.
The school had originally started in a garage by a group of mothers who were "looking for a different type of education," said Sato. Today, the "Carden Method," which is a focal point for both the Maui campus and about 80 other Carden schools nationwide, stresses small class sizes, student-teacher relationships, character education and enrichment through the arts, according to Sato.
"Every time we go out on field trips, people always comment on our students' courteousness. It's part of their character development," said Sato. "They'll say, 'That's a Carden student.' ''
The school was recently accredited by Hawaii Association of Independent Schools.
"(The accreditation) means that we are a school that is viable financially, and we have all the curriculum in place to provide a great education for kids," said Battersby.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.