Repairs on hold at 54 campuses
Withheld funds delay basic fixes and frustrate educators
» Lists of schools that will go ahead with renovations and those that will not
STORY SUMMARY »
Replacement of 35-year-old light fixtures and work on termite-ridden and rusty classrooms are among the projects being delayed at public schools across the state under spending restrictions by the Lingle administration.
The funds being withheld will postpone renovations scheduled at 54 isle schools, including 39 on Oahu, nine on the Big Island, four on Maui and two on Kauai, according to a list prepared by the state Department of Education for the Star-Bulletin.
Some principals were frustrated to learn that their schools could have to wait up to another year to get a fresh coat of paint or new flooring, and to switch from chalkboards to whiteboards.
The Lingle administration recently told education officials it would not release $110 million of the $235 million approved by the Legislature to renovate classrooms and maintain campuses because of lower-than-expected tax collections.
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Momilani Elementary will rely on circa-1970 fixtures to light up classrooms for 400 students tomorrow, the first day of the semester.
Next year, when some kids move on to middle school and new faces show up at the Pearl City school, the fixtures will turn 36.
"They are doing these renovation projects all around the state," said Principal Doreen Higa, who said the fixtures work but could be changed. "It's in phases, and we are one of the last."
Until last month, Momilani was among 96 schools 25 years or older that were waiting for $235 million approved by the Legislature to renovate classrooms and maintain campuses this fiscal year.
But under spending cuts adopted in the wake of slower tax collections, the state is holding up $110 million. So 54 of those schools, including Momilani, might have to wait another year for basic upgrades.
During that time, the sea breeze blowing from the ocean two miles away from Kahuku Elementary will keep rusty spots growing, worries Principal Pauline Masaniai, who expects the delay to make projects more expensive.
"We are just at that really good time that it wouldn't take a lot of money to make us look brand new again," she warned. "We are lucky that we are not in really, really bad shape, but if they keep putting the money off, eventually we will be in really, really bad shape. ... They really should release that money and follow through on what they were planning on doing."
The money being withheld will affect projects at 39 schools on Oahu, nine on the Big Island, four on Maui and two on Kauai.
State Budget Director Georgina Kawamura has said the schools budget had to be restricted because tax revenues for the last fiscal year came in lower than expected. Tax collections were up $4.58 billion, which is 3.4 percent higher than in the previous year but about $115 million lower than projected when lawmakers passed the budget.
Education officials say they will ask legislators to change the method of financing by selling bonds. But the money would not be available until the next fiscal year begins in July of next year.
On each campus, the cost for classroom renovations, which were scheduled in 2001 for aging schools, ranges from $1 million to $3 million, said Duane Kashiwai, public works manager for the Department of Education. When projects on the current list are done, the department will re-evaluate conditions at schools and create a new ranking, he said.
The staff at Hanalei Intermediate had already picked out colors for tiles and carpeting and discussed plans to relocate students and teachers when workers moved in to paint walls and ceilings and put in new whiteboards.
"Our school looks old -- it is old, but it is in fairly good condition because of the people that we have caring for it," said Principal Corey Nakamura, who guessed the school was built in the late 1800s. "A renovation would be a nice thing to have. It would definitely, aesthetically look more pleasing."
Laupahoehoe High and Elementary, built in 1952, is second to last on the repair list.
"We would be very disappointed if we were not able to receive the funding," said Principal Paul McCarty. "We are pretty excited about having our turn. That was a promise that was made by our government and our governor, and I would sure like to see that that comes through."
RENOVATIONS ON HOLD
Schools where work will be affected by the withholding of funds:
Mililani Uka Elementary
Mililani Waena Elementary
Moanalua Middle (Intermediate)
Salt Lake Elementary
Hilo Union Elementary
Laupahoehoe High & Elementary
Waialae Elementary (PCS)
Wailupe Valley Elementary
Maui High School
Lanikai Elementary (PCS)
Sunset Beach Elementary
RENOVATIONS MOVING AHEAD
Hawaii schools not affected by the withholding of funds:
Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary
Wahiawa Storefront School
Kohala (Halaula) Middle
Kalihi Uka Elementary
Pearl City High
Kualapuu Elementary (PCS)
Olomana School (Elementary)