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Kona campus project moves forward


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POSTED: Friday, November 20, 2009

A longtime dream of a Hawaii Community College campus at Kona took a step forward yesterday with the Board of Regents' approval of a development plan for the new campus.

But what is unclear is whether state funds will be released to pay for the construction of the first two phases of the project, and how to pay for the third and fourth phases.

The campus will be named Hawaii Community College Palamanui and will be on 500 acres of state land next to the $400 million private Palamanui development planned mauka of Kona Airport.

Palamanui's developers will give the university $5 million to help complete the first building of the new campus, said Hawaii Community College Chancellor Rockne Freitas. But Freitas said the governor has not released about $15 million that will pay for the completion of infrastructure and a second campus building. Another $6 million in funds appropriated by the Legislature will go toward renovations and a new development plan for the Hawaii Community College Hilo campus.

Freitas said there is no timetable yet, nor a financial plan to pay for the third and fourth phases of the Kona campus.

The regents approved the long-range plan without public discussion yesterday. Instead, Freitas briefed the regents about the plan behind closed doors.

In the public session of yesterday's meeting, Beth Sanders, interim director of the University of Hawaii Center, West Hawaii, urged the regents to approve the plan.

“;It is my belief,”; she said, “;if we build it, they will come — native Hawaiians and other students will come, resources will come, relevant educational programs will come.”;

Students on the west side of the Big Island now attend classes in leased space in a shopping center in Kealakekua.

“;It is very hard to concentrate on algebra with a rowdy bar literally 10 steps away,”; said former student Stacy Rand. “;The current location of the Hawaii Community College-West Hawaii does not wholly support a learning environment.”;

Freitas said the first two buildings on the new campus will house classrooms and the health science and culinary arts programs. The Palamanui developers had offered either $5 million or to construct the first campus classroom building for the university. But the university wants more than just classroom space in its first buildings, Freitas said.

He said the campus is designed as modules that can be added as money becomes available. The project is designed to use solar power, natural daylight and to conserve water as much as possible.

Freitas noted that West Hawaii's population has grown to about 70,000 people.

Sanders cited a former Hawaii Community College culinary student who told her, “;Kona is no longer a small town. It has grown up. It needs a grown-up college as well.”;