Charter school must move, set up new site
By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer
The state Department of Health has awarded Avalon Health Care a contract to build and operate a long-term care facility in Kāne'ohe that would displace a charter school on the grounds of the Hawai'i State Hospital.
Hakipu'u Learning Center is a public charter school with about 100 students in grades seven to 12. It has been on the hospital grounds since it opened nine years ago, but must find a new home as the state finalizes its contract with Avalon. The state has asked Hakipu'u to leave by the end of July, and has offered a temporary location for the school that would require it to build classrooms.
However, with no construction date set for the Avalon facility, the learning center hopes to get an extension to gain time to develop a new campus, said Charlene Hoe, school administrator.
"We have been asked first to vacate by June 30 and then the Department of Health extended it to July 31, neither of which is actually doable when you're trying to move a whole school," Hoe said.
The proposed relocation site is on the campus of adjoining Windward Community College. The DOH is using buildings there for transitional housing for its patients to get them ready to move into the community, said Janice Okubo, DOH spokeswoman.
There are four cottages on the property, but one has been condemned and can be torn down to make way for a new building, Okubo said.
"We felt that would be more than sufficient for" Hakipu'u, she said. "We just need enough time to move those patients out of those cottages."
The contract with Avalon has not been finalized but the company is required to finance, build and operate a facility for hard-to-place elderly patients with mental illnesses, Okubo said.
The hospital, situated mauka of the college, has had new construction and improvements but said it needs more space as its population expands and grows older.
Over the years, the Hakipu'u Learning Center has developed a close relationship with the college, which offers the Running Start Program in which high school juniors and seniors take college level courses and earn college credits. Remaining near the college ensures better participation, Hoe said, adding that 85 percent of their seniors go on to college.
"It's been very powerful so it's not something we think is just nice to have," she said. "It's necessary to have."
Hoe said the school has been working for seven years to secure a permanent home and has come close several times. Hakipu'u hopes to reactivate a request it made in 2003 for 7 acres of land on a hillside near the Kāne'ohe District Park but that will take time and money, she said. Hoe said she remains hopeful.
"Our call for help has been heard and many people have weighed in trying to find options for us," Hoe said.
Parents of Hakipu'u students say they are worried that they may lose a school that cares about the students and treats everyone like family, said Jayme Lewis, who has three children in the school. Lewis said she likes the small classes, the one-on-one attention and that teachers call right away when students fall behind.
"It would be a shame for it to close down," said Lewis, a Kahalu'u resident. "Anything similar to it would be all the way in Nānākuli."