School's plans to expand draw ire
By Suzanne Roig
Advertiser East Honolulu Writer
By Suzanne Roig
A plan to build a high school in the center of Niu Valley drew about 100 people yesterday to a public hearing held by the city while it considers Honolulu Waldorf School's conditional use permit.
Nearly four hours of testimony was presented at Mission Memorial Auditorium. There were those who passionately believe that the school needs to build a high school on its Niu campus to be able to continue its educational mission and those who feel the school is an undesirable neighbor who draws too many cars to the residential neighborhood, creates a parking mess, and has a campus too small for the high school. The city's Department of Planning and Permitting has 60 days to deny or accept the school's permit.
The school, which has been at 350 Ulua St. for more than 40 years, has 230 students enrolled in grades preschool through eighth. The proposal is to build a two-story, 10,000 square foot building on the southwest corner of the campus. The school plans to add 27 parking spaces and establish a drop-off and pick-up area that would be off the street.
The new high school would accommodate 80 to 100 students, said Connie Starzynski, Honolulu Waldorf administrative director.
The school's plan has drawn the ire of some in the community, who chartered a bus to take residents to the public hearing. The school, likewise, chartered a bus for its supporters.
"Building high school classrooms on the Niu Valley site will enable our students, families, and teachers to unite in one space as the one community we really are," said Sue Lautenslager, Honolulu Waldorf High School faculty chairwoman. "This would not only be a gift to our students but important for the future of our wider community."
Yet, Jeannine Johnson, a Niu Valley resident and member of the Niu Valley Community Association and the Kuli'ou'ou /Kalani Iki Neighborhood Board, said the issue comes down to size. The site is too small for what the school plans, she said.
In comparison, Johnson said:
"It is unconscionable for Waldorf to want to add 100-plus students and cars to their small 2 1/2-acre lot," Johnson said. "We believe Waldorf has outgrown its Niu campus."
The Kuli'ou'ou/Kalani Iki Neighborhood Board voted to oppose the expansion, and the Niu Valley Community Association also is opposed.
The community, said Niu Valley resident Susan Ichinose, began meeting with the school about a year ago in an attempt to bridge the long-standing issues between residents and the school.
"We have file folders full of letters to the school from the neighbors going back more than a dozen years," Ichinose said. "Waldorf has never been generally in harmony with the community. Neither has it showed that the proposed expansion would serve any community purpose."
Starzynski, who led city planning staff on a tour Wednesday, said the school has tried over and over again to talk to parents, by issuing reminders in parent bulletins and by using monitors to help ease the morning and afternoon drop-off and pick-up.
"Honolulu Waldorf School wants to be a good neighbor. We also take our responsibility to our students very seriously," Starzynski said in written testimony to the city. "We believe these values can be harmonized if the school and the neighborhood work together and act reasonably."
Reach Suzanne Roig at firstname.lastname@example.org.