Land swap offers hope for better schools
Kaaawa Elementary could get a new home
Long-delayed hopes for newer, safer school facilities could come true for either Kaaawa Elementary or Kahuku High and Intermediate under a land swap proposal being considered at the Department of Education.
The swap was initiated by Hawaii Baptist Academy, which leases state land for its Nuuanu middle and high schools. Officials at the private college prep school want to acquire that land and have offered to buy property elsewhere on Oahu and exchange it with the state for its current site.
The state is offering the Department of Education use of whatever new land Hawaii Baptist buys, and the department has settled on two possible options, the Board of Education was told yesterday.
One option would be a new campus for aging Kaaawa Elementary, now located in a tsunami inundation zone along a busy stretch of Kamehameha Highway.
The alternative could be a long-awaited relocation of much of Kahuku High and Intermediate out of a flood plain.
"I want them both," said Windward District Superintendent Lea Albert, who added that the department faces a tough decision.
Kaaawa Elementary, now on 3.7 acres, could be moved inland to an roughly 12-acre site. The Department of Education has identified all or part of a 50-acre parcel currently owned by the Kualoa Ranch as a possible location for the 110-student school.
The second option would be to buy part or all of a 58-acre parcel on higher ground immediately mauka of the Kahuku campus and now owned by the Estate of James Campbell.
The community has talked for years about relocating parts of the school to higher ground due to a flooding problem. As recently as last October, flooding caused by heavy rains forced the closure of the 1,800-student school. The cost of the project is estimated at between $116 million and $148 million.
Assistant Superintendent Rae Loui said details of the swap remain unknown.
The department does not know whether the two landowners would be willing to sell or what the value of the Hawaii Baptist site is, she said.
"The ideal scenario would be that the Nuuanu site would be worth enough for both (options), but we don't know yet," Loui said.
Department officials expect that a choice will have to be made.
"One school is in a tsunami inundation zone. The other has a much larger community. But a decision will have to be made at some point," Albert said.
Representatives of the two landowners could not be reached for comment. The Campbell Estate, which converts from a private trust to a real estate company in 2007, has sold large parcels in the area recently.
The proposal is the second land swap being considered by the department, which is eager to rebuild crumbling schools from scratch.
Board of Education members are looking at a proposed exchange that would give the current Kailua High School site to a residential developer in exchange for 97 acres near Mount Olomana and $70 million to build a school at the new site.
A decision is expected after the two communities can respond. Department officials said a decision is needed this fall so that if the department plans fall through, the state can offer the idea to another agency in time for the next legislative session.