Gov. Neil Abercrombie has released a half million dollars to begin the planning of a new middle school in Central Maui to help relieve the burgeoning enrollment at Maui Waena Intermediate, one of the largest schools in the county.
The funds will pay for a strategic master plan, which will include a complete facilities assessment and inventory and evaluation of educational needs and adequacy, according to state Department of Education officials.
The planning phase is estimated to take about a year and is scheduled to start Monday.
"It's not a project yet, but . . . Maui Waena (Intermediate School) is at capacity and our strategic master plan will give us an outlook for the next 10 to 20 years," Ray L'Heureux, assistant superintendent for school facilities and support services, said Friday.
Last school year, enrollment at Maui Waena, the larger of two intermediate schools in Central Maui, reached 1,116 students - the highest among middle schools in Maui County and fourth highest in the state. The school in Kahului was designed to accommodate 1,008 students, according to state records.
Department officials still are in negotiations with landowner Alexander & Baldwin to designate a site for the school near A&B's planned Wai'ale community. Last year, the state Land Use Commission approved A&B's petition to rezone a little more than 545 acres in Central Maui to develop 2,250 homes, commercial areas, a middle school, public facilities and parks in an area bisected by East Waiko Road with Kuihelani Highway to the east and Honoapiilani Highway and Waikapu to the west.
L'Heureux estimates that the middle school may cost up to $130 million, about the price to build a high school. He stressed that the process is just in the planning phases and that officials are still considering a number of options.
"Maybe we need to look at a different way of building a school. Why can't we have a community school with grades K through 12, which will better serve the community's needs?" L'Heureux said.
The Central Maui district is forecast to have the highest growth in school-aged children in the county and a new intermediate school is "necessary," according to a draft environmental assessment for a Maui Waena Intermediate School expansion project in April.
Maui Waena, which has only three grade levels, saw higher enrollment numbers than four-year high schools King Kekaulike and Lahainaluna, which had 1,024 and 1,050 students last school year, respectively.
"We're at capacity, we need some help," said Maui Waena Principal Jamie Yap of the 6th-to-8th-grade school. "When I'm running three grades that are larger than the high school, that doesn't sound right."
The other Central Maui middle school, Iao Intermediate School in Wailuku, had about 880 students last school year, according to the school's website.
Yap said that both Maui Waena and Iao are at capacity or beyond. He said that people moved back home with their families to Central Maui due to the tough economic times, which created "those second-generation kids" from those families and ultimately, more demand. The state has been adding portables over the past few years and the school received approval earlier this year for a $4.1 million expansion that includes three science classrooms, three general education classrooms, a multipurpose room and a computer resource center.
Still, Yap said, it will be at least another two years until the building is ready for use, and in that time he expects enrollment to continue to grow. He said a new school will help "relieve the count" for both Maui Waena and Iao schools.
"With the new Kihei high school and the new elementary (Puu Kukui Elementary School), we've been on the back burner but after those schools are built, we will probably come to the front," he said.
The state Legislature approved $130 million for the building of a new high school in Kihei earlier this year. Puu Kukui Elementary in Wailuku, a $37.1 million project, is scheduled to open this fall.
Lahaina Intermediate School also received funds - $940,000 for the design and construction of Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant boys and girls restrooms.
Abercrombie released more than $134.7 million last week for improvement projects for Hawaii's public school facilities.
"The improvements are an investment in our keiki and our economy. Capital improvement projects like these across the state are contributing to Hawaii's strong economy and our improved state unemployment rate, which declined to 4.7 (percent) in May," Abercrombie said in a statement.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at email@example.com.