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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, August 23, 2001

Kamehameha Schools opens Kea'au campus

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

KEA'AU, Hawai'i — I mua Kamehameha!

Go forward, Kamehameha!

The educational institution established by the will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop took a giant move forward yesterday with the opening of the $30 million first phase of Kamehameha Schools' East Hawai'i campus in Kea'au, about seven miles south of Hilo.

One hundred and forty-four students in grades 6-8 began classes in modern, air-conditioned facilities that include an art and ceramics lab, a teen health center, an industrial arts drafting lab, a computer lab and space for Hawaiian language and culture studies. Eventually, students in grades K-12 will be enrolled as the campus is finished at a cost of $180 million.

"It's just fabulous. It fits in so well with the princess's will. This is a wonderful new beginning," said Leslie Ahuna, whose daughter, Mailani, is a sixth-grader at the new school.

Others had a similar reaction.

"Wow. I am amazed," said Dilla Sayles of Kea'au, whose son Jeff is in sixth grade. "(This) gives more opportunity to the Hawaiians."

"It's beautiful," said Kehu Flores, escorting sons, Zachary, 13, and Damien, 11, onto the campus where landscapers were putting in grass and native plants a day after the driveway was paved.

Police officer Joseph Botelho Jr. of Hilo, whose son, Bronson, attends the school, described the campus as "just amazing."

"It's a lot more than I expected," he said.

The Kamehameha staff shared in the parents' enthusiasm. "Christmas came early this year," said science teacher Kyle Kaaa, whose classroom is twice the size of the portable he shared at the temporary Keaukaha campus last year.

The former public school teacher described his new working environment as "astounding." "It's very spacious," he said during a visit Tuesday.

Kaaa's daughter, Acacia, now in the first grade, and son, Chandler, a fifth-grader, will be at the new campus next year, when grades 1-3 and 9 are added. By the 2004 school year, an estimated 1,120 students will be enrolled in grades K-12.

In the meantime, the Kamehameha Schools' temporary elementary school campus, with 196 students, will remain in operation at Keaukaha, which opened in 1996.

Peter Uchiyama is managing the five-stage campus development on 310 acres of former pasture land sold to the schools by W.H. Shipman Ltd. in 1999. Construction of the elementary buildings on the Hilo side of the campus is under way, with the high school units to come later.

Uchiyama said a dormitory is being discussed, but for the first few years at least, only day students will be enrolled.

Stan Fortuna Jr., a former school superintendent from Michigan, has been hired as headmaster for the East Hawai'i campus.

The Kamehameha Schools were created and financed by a trust set up in the will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, last direct descendant of Kamehameha I and sole heir to the vast Kamehameha lands.

Kamehameha's largest school remains the 600-acre Kapalama campus on O'ahu. In 1999, the 100-acre Maui campus in Pukalani opened after three years at a temporary site. That school also is working its way up to grades K-12.