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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 15, 2003

School to move students to hotel

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Education Writer

Mid-Pacific Institute will move about 50 students into a Waikiki hotel for the rest of the school year after determining that a dormitory on its Manoa campus may not be safe, a school official said yesterday.

The students, who are going to the hotel this weekend, will be bused to and from school and will be chaperoned and have a curfew at the hotel, as they do on campus. The unusual situation follows an unpopular announcement in September that Mid-Pacific would suspend its tradition of student boarding at the end of the school year, which caused student protests and upset parents and alumni.

"Some students are really upset, and rightfully so," said Pat Garvey, the chief financial officer for the private school, where tuition is more than $11,500 a year and boarding costs an additional $9,000.

Garvey said the decision to suspend boarding and the choice to move students out of their dorms are not related.

Structural problems to sections of the half-century-old Wilcox dorm have worried the school, Garvey said, and now that the students are leaving, the school plans to tear the building down. "Our engineer said it's not unsafe now, but he couldn't say it wouldn't be unsafe in the future," he said.

The school opted to move the students a few weeks ago and notified parents. Some students will move in with nearby family members or guardians instead of the hotel. Garvey estimated it would cost the school $400,000 for transportation, staff and lodging to keep the students at a hotel through May. He asked that the name of the hotel not be published for student privacy.

"It's been mixed," Garvey said of parent reaction. "They would obviously prefer that their children stay on campus."

Kurt Leong, who lives on Kaua'i, said his daughter, Ka'ala, a ninth-grader, is moving to the hotel. He said the family was disappointed that boarding would be suspended and has doubts about the school's explanations for the move.

Leong said he has been told by people at the school that the dorm has not been condemned and wonders what has changed since the start of the school year to force the school to move the students to a hotel. "That's another safety issue right there," he said of the idea of teenagers living in a hotel and being bused back and forth to school. "It's one thing after another.

"And if the building was really in that bad of shape, why didn't they do something before?"

Garvey confirmed that the dorm had not been condemned but said students are being moved for their long-term safety.

He also said the school may one day bring back student boarding. More than 70 students have to pay for boarding for the school to make it work financially in the existing building, he said, and only about 50 of the school's 1,100 students stayed on campus this year. School officials have said that the dorm population declined recently because of a drop in international students due to travel fears from SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — and visa restrictions since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

All Mid-Pacific students lived in dorms a generation ago, and some of the school's alumni have discussed raising money so more students from Hawai'i could stay in the dorms. "We haven't closed the door on it," Garvey said. "It's our history. Our alumni is pretty passionate about it."

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.