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StarBulletin.com

Partnership blesses the Leeward Coast


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POSTED: Sunday, August 09, 2009

Kamehameha Schools plans to invest as much as $100 million in a Learning Innovation Complex to serve the Leeward Coast on land in Makaha Valley donated by developer Jeffrey R. Stone and the Weinberg Trust.

“;It's as though a dream was coming true,”; said Dee Jay Mailer, chief executive officer of Kamehameha Schools, which has been working to extend its educational reach beyond its three campuses. “;We are truly, truly appreciative.”;

Although Kamehameha Schools is the state's largest private landowner, it doesn't own any land on the Leeward side of the island, home to the largest concentration of native Hawaiians anywhere. But that is about to change.

Stone said he and the Weinberg Trust will donate a 66-acre parcel of undeveloped land west of Makaha Valley Country Club to Kamehameha Schools, probably by January. They also plan to give 234 adjoining acres, including the golf course itself, in increments over time to the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands for housing and community development.

“;The land was planned to be developed originally as a resort and residential community,”; said Stone, president of The Resort Group, which owns Ko Olina Resort and Marina. “;We looked at Kamehameha Schools' vision as being a much better anchor, a much better purpose for the entire coast, and we offered to give them as much land as they needed to build this learning complex.”;

“;The gift is unconditional,”; he said. “;There are no strings attached. It is from the heart.”;

Rather than another traditional school, the Learning Innovation Center will act as a laboratory for teachers, and as a site for project- and land-based learning. It will support education for Hawaiians from birth through adulthood, with a special focus on the youngest learners, and work with the public and private schools.

“;We are building on the strength that already exists in those communities, from Kapolei to Kaena Point,”; said Mailer. “;It is about using our resources to help build capacity throughout that coast, building up the existing schools.”;

A public announcement of the project wasn't expected until later, but the Star-Bulletin learned about it and the principals agreed to disclose its basic outline.

“;It's a holistic approach toward building a community,”; said Micah Kane, director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. “;It's one combined, cohesive effort that will have a tremendous impact on the Leeward Coast. It's going to give us a chance to assure that kids have hope and pride in their futures. It's a raise-all-ships type of effort.”;

The news was welcomed by Leeward residents, including Kamaki Kanahele, state chairman for the Sovereign Council of the Hawaiian Homelands Assembly, which represents 28 homestead associations.

“;Next to the building of the Kamehameha Schools in Kapalama Heights, this will be their greatest accomplishment in the 21st century to benefit native Hawaiian children,”; Kanahele predicted. “;Its impact on the native beneficiaries of the trust is going to be absolutely phenomenal.”;

Stone's company, West Honolulu Investments LLC, bought the 18-hole Makaha Valley Country Club and surrounding land from Nitto Hawaii Co. in 2004 for roughly $5 million. The Weinberg Trust then came in as a 50-50 partner. They have since invested $2 million in improvements.

The 300-acre property, zoned for residential and preservation use, is now assessed at $8 million, Stone said.

The Makaha Valley Country Club will continue operations as usual, but eventually wind down as the project is developed over the next five to 15 years, Stone said. The plans do not involve the nearby Makaha Resort Golf Club.

Kane said it was too early to estimate how many homes would be built in the area. He expects it will offer housing for young families as well as kupuna.

“;What we're hearing early on is that they would like to see a kupuna-housing component to the project,”; he said. “;We're not sure yet if it's going to be all single-family or if there's going to be some multifamily. There needs to be quite a bit of community discussion.”;

There are 75,000 Hawaiians of school age in the state, and Kamehameha Schools serves 5,400 of them on its campuses.

“;We know that we cannot effectively educate all Hawaiian children by only building campuses, so we need to find a different way,”; said Mailer, noting that the trust is prepared to spend “;as much as $100 million-plus”; on the learning complex.

“;It will have outdoor classrooms as well as indoor classrooms,”; she said. “;There will be early learning, from birth to 8 years old, and high school learning areas that are culturally based, and land-based. We will probably have residences on the complex so that students and teachers can stay and immerse themselves for a period of time.”;

The educational trust already supports numerous programs on the Waianae Coast, including birth baskets and preschools, literacy, science/cultural education, charter schools and teacher training. It is also promoting the Nanakuli Model Complex, from preschool though college, and a Leeward Coast Education Innovation Zone.

The complex is seen as a way to foster and help replicate outstanding projects such as Searider Productions, the nationally recognized video program at Waianae High School, and the Nanakuli High School Performing Arts Center.

“;I'm very excited about it,”; said Mervina Cash-Kaeo, president and chief executive of ALU LIKE, Inc., and a lifelong Nanakuli resident. “;If you look at the Waianae Coast, you have pockets of very innovative and successful projects. There really isn't any bridge between them. The center can be the glue to bring all the innovative projects into one place where everyone can access them.”;

“;It's not only early education; they're talking about even adults,”; she added. “;It's the whole generation, a place that we can come together.”;

Stone said the new plans for Makaha make far more sense than having two golf courses side by side in the valley. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D-Waianae) suggested to him that he consider donating the land for the project.

“;I rib him a lot,”; Hanabusa said. “;I told him, 'What's another golf course, when you can touch a whole new generation of kids?'”;

Q&A: THE PROJECT

Question: What is the gift?

Answer: Jeffrey R. Stone and the Weinberg Trust will donate 300 acres in Makaha Valley to Kamehameha Schools and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Q: What will happen to the land?

A: Kamehameha Schools plans to spend as much as $100 million to build a Learning Innovation Complex on a 66-acre parcel next to Makaha Valley Country Club.

» It will serve all ages, with a special focus on the youngest learners and their families. It will strengthen schools and teaching along the entire Leeward Coast.

» The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands will receive 234 acres, and plans to develop housing and community facilities over the next five to 10 years

Q: Why Makaha?

A: The Leeward Coast is home to 30,000 native Hawaiians, the largest such population in the world.

Q: What about the golf course?

A: Makaha Valley Country Club will continue operations for now, but wind down as housing is built.

—Susan Essoyan, Star-Bulletin