Kaimuki High School To Be Evaluated for Possible Redevelopment

Jan 17, 2020

Kaimuki High School could be redeveloped under a plan to lease a portion of its property with the aim of generating income for school improvements. 

The Hawaii Board of Education selected the school for evaluation Thursday while rejecting a more controversial option that would have merged Queen Kaahumanu Elementary School with McKinley High School.

The redevelopment proposal is made possible by a law passed in 2013 that established a pilot program to lease public school land for commercial or other uses. In 2019, the law was amended to allow lease agreements to last up to 99 years instead of 55 years.

In a memo to the board, the state Department of Education called the Kaimuki High project “a joint-use innovation campus.” 

Board member Bruce Voss supported the idea.

“Kaimuki High School is clearly the greatest opportunity,” he said. “[It’s] a school that has been neglected to the detriment of its students in the communities, 33 wonderful acres, an opportunity for a terrific master plan that could include affordable housing, better school facilities, perhaps co-locating with a charter school, if it’s appropriate.”

Kaimuki High School began in 1943 as an annex to Kaimuki Intermediate School, according to its website. It opened at its current location on Kaimuki Avenue in 1950. The average age of its facilities is 62 years, according to the DOE. The school covers 34.5 acres and has roughly 700 students. 

The evaluation of the school for redevelopment would be conducted by a third-party expert who would have several tasks:

  • Explain the joint-use concept to the community
  • Collect recommendations from the community
  • Map strengths and resources in the community
  • Identify the appropriate private partners
  • Provide design recommendations for the project.

The board also considered Queen Kaahumanu Elementary School for redevelopment, but board members voiced reservations about moving the elementary school to McKinley and fully commercializing the elementary school's location. 

Although the board unanimously voted to remove Queen Kaahumanu Elementary School from consideration, Board Chair Catherine Payne noted that legislators were very interested in the location. She did not identify the lawmakers.

Board member Margaret Cox said the elementary school’s enrollment number of 500 students invalidated it as an option for development.

“As a principal of an elementary school that started at about 270, then went to 470 then 950, 500 is a really good number for what you can do educationally for kids,” Cox said.

Board member Nolan Kawano questioned if the law even allowed the board to move a school from one location to another. “It seems as though we’re being very liberal in our reading of the statue,” he said.

Another board member, Kenneth Uemura, wondered how the joint-legislative package announced by Gov. David Ige and Senate and House leaders on Monday would affect the project. One of the announced policy initiatives would establish an education construction authority.

“If the bill is passed, that agency will take over all capital improvement processes, including Act 155 projects,” Uemura said. Act 155 is the law that allows the DOE to redevelop its properties to create 21st century schools.

States such as California and New York have developed joint uses at public schools, but found there are challenges in wide implementation of the concept, including difficulties in administering mixed use activities and determining appropriate access to the properties.  

The DOE will need to review the board’s action and decide on its next steps. The law says that any lease entered into by the department must be fully executed by July 1, 2023.