New model for Isle schools
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
By Beverly Creamer
At least once a month, Eileen Hirota dons a hard hat and in her business attire, walks the dusty and wind-swept site that by fall will be the state's newest public school — a modern 12-acre elementary campus to accommodate 'Ewa's new families.
As principal of the $27.2 million Ocean Pointe Elementary, Hirota is looking toward January, when the first classes will be held on the site perched on the edge of the Ocean Pointe subdivision.
Her school includes everything the DOE wants in all its new elementary schools — from a state-of-the-art library with space for activities such as book-binding to soundproof rooms for video and TV production. The school also is fully air-conditioned to drown out noise from planes coming and going from Honolulu International Airport.
Those in the communities that the new schools will serve can also ask for unique features, and Ocean Pointe chose to include two dedicated art/science rooms with long tables and a sink in the middle of each to promote hands-on learning.
The school also will relieve crowding at some nearby schools and accommodate new growth in the Leeward area, as new subdivisions and young families spread over what was once sugar and pineapple land. While older O'ahu neighborhood schools — from the central city to the East O'ahu suburbs and elsewhere — are losing enrollment as families age and children finish school and move away, the DOE struggles to keep up with the needs of growing areas.
Ocean Pointe will be the 15th new public school to open in Hawai'i since 1995, and the sixth in Leeward O'ahu. Another middle school is planned in the next few years on 18 acres Gentry set aside in 'Ewa Makai. But some neighborhood board members say there are still too few schools.
"We need three more elementary schools, two more intermediates and another high school," said 'Ewa Neighborhood Board member Jeff Alexander. "We never have enough schools."
But the state also needs the infrastructure to go with it, said Alexander, especially more roads to lessen the burden on Fort Weaver Road. That central artery is jammed morning and night, with some traffic created by families driving their children up or down the road as they scatter to the area's four older elementary schools.
Though Ocean Pointe's seven buildings are still shells, the school is scheduled to be completed by October, then turned over to the Department of Education to furnish. By January it will open to children for the second half of the school year. Until then, students will go to 'Ewa Beach Elementary.
Built on land contributed by Ocean Pointe developer Haseko, the new school has a capacity of 725 students, a capacity that will be reached within four years. By 2011-12, it's expected to grow to 925 students, according to Department of Education projections for the area's growth. The plans include space for six portable buildings that could handle extra enrollment.
Officials are also keeping the option open to go multitrack in the future if necessary, although Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto hopes not to use multitracking for any more schools.
"If it's bursting at the seams then (portables) would be the next step before multitrack," said Nick Nichols, facilities planner for the Department of Education's design and evaluation section.
Another 4,800 homes are planned in the community by Haseko and 1,512 units are scheduled for new Gentry developments on empty land mauka of the school. That will bring their total to about 9,000 units at full build-out in 2011.
With the school's outside walls up and interior spaces cordoned off, excitement about the school is growing in this community. Anticipation is especially high about a meeting tomorrow, where the DOE will unveil the redistricting plan and residents will hear for the first time which children will go the new school.
"Whenever there's a new school, everyone wants to go," said Hirota, the principal.
While some students will live right across the street and can step onto school grounds in a moment, others will live a mile or farther and will have to be bused, said district superintendent Mamo Carreira. But she's firm in saying the new school will not take children from the east side of Fort Weaver Road because of the danger of crossing that busy thoroughfare.
The redistricting plan was developed by a task force and has had input from all stakeholders, DOE officials said. Those include area residents, subdivision developers, neighborhood board members, students and school officials, to help determine where the lines would be drawn.
Nonetheless the decision-making has created as much controversy as that which surrounded the opening of nearby Holomua Elementary 11 years ago.
"Initially it was only going to be Ocean Pointe residents and that's why we were quite alarmed," said Debra Luning, director of government affairs and community relations for Gentry. "Some of our residents are right next to the school and we were planning to put in bike paths and walkways so that the kids will be able to walk to school."
Those who live in Gentry subdivisions were especially concerned their children might not have the opportunity to attend the new school, even if it was within a few blocks.
"It's criminal to bus the children all over the place to create an artificial population at a particular school," said Sue York, president of the 'Ewa By Gentry Community Association, with about 6,300 homes. York believes kids should go to school in their neighborhood, even if they have to cross a busy road.
"It was a huge battle back when they built Holomua," said York of that redistricting plan that cut out families within a few blocks of the school. "They cut off the Gentry West people from Holomua and it's right across Fort Weaver Road. But they use this excuse that Fort Weaver is too busy to cross. But some of the thinking is illogical. They're going to widen Fort Weaver Road, so let's put in some pedestrian overpasses.
"It also doesn't do anything to promote our community spirit to have our kids at four different schools," she said.
Aside from the inevitable disagreements, many are just delighted to see a new school.
"The community is saying the sooner they open it the better," said L. Gary Bautista, president of the 'Ewa Neighborhood Board.
No doubt the eagerness is due to what the school will feature.
Amenities will include a playing field at each of its four corners, a student services building with its own store, a central courtyard with a bridge over a "stream" of colorful embedded rocks, with plantings, benches and a sundial, and a giant two-story "pencil" that's part of the library entrance. And that's not to mention the 16 "breakout" glassed-in computer rooms between every two classrooms, an art/science center and a cafeteria with its own outdoor stage for school and community use.
It will also serve as a central gathering spot for the community, said Nichols, the DOE facilities planner.
"The cafeteria will have tremendous use for after-hours events," he said.
"One of the things we wanted to do was extend the classroom," said architect Terry McFarland of Architects Hawai'i, who designed the school. That's the reason for the courtyard in the center of the two-story classroom building and the sundial.
"If you're a little kid you're saying, 'Gee, the sun can actually tell you what time it is. Well, how does that work?' So it creates an environment where sometimes they don't even know they're learning," said McFarland.
Just as the school's physical components are a work in progress, so is its name. The community plans to rename the school in the next few months.
Reach Beverly Creamer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: 'Ewa Beach Elementary School's classroom computers are able to offer Internet connections, according to the school's computer teacher. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information.