Kaaawa Elementary School repairs could stave off closing


POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2009

Kaaawa Elementary School, on the list for possible closure, has a better chance at a new lease on life with upgrades to its cesspool and drainage systems.

In December the state Department of Education cited problems with sewage and flooding among its reasons for concluding that the school should be closed. But a $2.3 million project just getting started should resolve those concerns, school officials said.

“;That is no longer an issue,”; said Creighton Mattoon, chairman of the Task Force to Study Consolidation of Kaaawa Elementary School. “;The flooding issue is being mitigated, and the waste-water treatment system is being mitigated.”;

Those issues, however, were not the only cited as reasons to close the rural school that opened in 1904 and has 141 students this year. Administrators are also concerned it is in a tsunami inundation zone and that only one of its buildings is a permanent structure. The rest are portable classrooms and trailers.

The task force, which has been meeting for months, is gathering data on all aspects of possible closure, including surveying parents and comparing situations at other schools. Task force members have noted that other campuses also have temporary facilities and are in tsunami zones.

While some residents had the impression that the department had already made up its mind to close the school, Lea Albert, complex-area superintendent, said Friday that is not the case.

“;It is not a done deal at all,”; Albert said. “;No determination has been made. This particular task force is supposed to study whether or not to consolidate Kaaawa. They have various committees that are doing research. I think they are very thoughtful and very thorough, and they will make an appropriate recommendation.”;

If Kaaawa were to close, its students would have to be bused six or seven miles to either Hauula or Waiahole Elementary schools, on the narrow, winding highway, rather than walking to school. Some parents are also concerned about how their kids could be involved in after-school activities.

“;The task force and the community are trying very hard to keep the school open,”; Mattoon said, noting it is a major community asset, and that its students perform well academically.

One of the criteria for closing a school is when it has far fewer students than its capacity. Kaaawa, however, has been running near its capacity of 161 students. Meanwhile, Waiahole has just 70 students this year on a campus that can accommodate 232 students, and Hauula has 270 students, with a capacity of 496.

Mattoon said that if Waiahole closed, its students could go to Kahaluu, just a mile or so away. But Albert said that closing Waiahole “;is not part of the discussion.”;

At Kaaawa, the waste-water problem is being handled with the installation of an aerobic treatment unit to handle sewage, which will produce a relatively clean effluent that will go into the cesspools. Flooding problems are being handled with improvements that will allow water to run off the property into a culvert.

The Kaaawa consolidation task force will meet again Oct. 15. When it completes its review, it will make a recommendation to Albert, who will then make a recommendation to Superintendent Pat Hamamoto. A public hearing would be held before the Board of Education voted on any school closing.

The board recently streamlined the procedures for closing schools, cutting out the requirement for a task force. In the future, the superintendent will initiate a study of possible closure and report to the board, which will hold a public hearing and make a decision.