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Big Island Charter School Buried in Lava Finds New Home

Valerie C. Simpson Architects & Associates

Hawai?i students and teachers will be heading back to school in less than two weeks. And this Big Island charter school has quite a lot to do before opening its doors for the coming school year.  The school lost its campus to the ongoing lava flow in Puna. HPR’s Ku?uwehi Hiraishi has this story.

When lava first began spewing from fissures in Leilani Estates at the end of the last school year, Kua O Ka L? Public Charter School director Susie Osborne took preventative measures and relocated her students out of Puna.

Credit U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Geological Survey
A massive plume marks the spot. Lava enters the ocean at Ahalanui Beach Park just makai of Kua O Ka La Public Charter School.

“Well, we were lingering in the land of hope for quite a while, as we watched the journey of lava comes toward Puala’a,” says Osborne, “And really it’s quite a great disbelief it all occurred.”

Earlier this month, the ongoing lava flow buried the school’s 600-acre property near the Ahalanui Warm Ponds. The Hawaiian-focused charter school called Puala?a home since it was founded 16 years ago. This coming year, the school’s 230 students will be scattered throughout three different campuses in Hilo and Puna.

Credit Kua O Ka La Public Charter School
Kua O Ka La Public Charter School
Graduates of Kua O Ka La's Class of 2018 held graduation ceremonies off campus on May 31, 2018, because of the threat of lava to the school's grounds. This would be the same day Susie Osborne loses her home in Puna.

“You know it’s a big shift,” says Osborne, “And of course all the students and families that are you know are either have lost their homes like myself or who have had to relocate. There’s you know a very large of our population undergoing those very profound stressors in life.”

A map of the ongoing lava flow as of July 12, 2018.

Nonetheless, she says the school will go on. They will be remodeling a newly-acquired building on the grounds of the Nanimau Gardens for the elementary school this weekend.

“It has not been in occupancy for several years and no sort of attention so it needs everything from industrial cleaning top to bottom, carpentry work, some flooring work, putting in some air con, some yard stuff…” says Osborne.

She says the outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming. The Rotary Clubs of Hilo and Pahoa in particular helped championed fundraising and relocation efforts.

“And that holds great promise and hope,” says Osborne, “And nothing can ever replace the wahi pana of Puala’a, truly a sacred place.

Osborne says the relocation has not shaken her commitment to making Kua O Ka L? a national model for education, grounded in place and culture.

Volunteers are invited to help renovate Kua O Ka L?'s new elementary school grounds at Nani Mau, 421 Makalika Street in Hilo, fro 8am to 4pm Saturday, July 28 and Sunday, July 29, 2018. For questions call or text Ron Cutler (808)443-9546. More information available at www.KuaOKaLa.org

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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