Thursday, March 18, 1999

By Gary Kubota, Star-Bulletin
Brian Blundell is a member of the school inspection team
that gave Lahainaluna High School an unacceptable rating.
Blundell points out a termite-eaten beam in the
school's tractor garage.

Lahainaluna High
no longer safe

The oldest public school
west of the Rockies has become
a health and safety hazard

By Gary Kubota


LAHAINA, Maui -- At the oldest American public school west of the Rockies, historic charm sometimes turns into a health and safety hazard.

Lahainaluna High School, founded in 1831, has the notoriety of being rated this year as the only public school in the state with unacceptable facilities.

"It's just been years of systematic neglect," said Irene McPhee, the parent of two Lahainaluna students and a member of the citizen inspection team that rated the school. "Those parents who are aware of what's going on are frustrated. They're sort of past the point of feeling anything can be done."

State education facilities director Lester Chuck, who inspected the school yesterday in light of the rating, confirmed that repairs are needed, some more immediately than others."They definitely have problems," he said.

Chuck said the Department of Education is trying to follow a $1.8 million plan to make repairs in phases, but added he will try to obtain money to accelerate some of the work.

A high-priority problem is the sewage that occasionally overflows into a health room and other offices in the student activities building, he said.

Interim Deputy District Superintendent Elizabeth Hoxie said she is pleased Lahainaluna is getting attention from state officials."When one of the schools gets that kind of rating, you've got to find out why ... You've got a lot of safety issues here," said Hoxie.

Abandoned structures and equipment also mar Lahainaluna's campus, which sprawls on more than 125 acres on slopes overlooking Lahaina Town.

Laundry machines, no longer in operation, occupy one building. Nearby is a dilapidated drying room. And on the lower campus, weeds encircle a tractor road grader used during World War II.

Parents and school officials, though, say they have enough of a task trying to maintain those structures still in use.

"The student activities building belongs in a Third World country," McPhee said. "It doesn't make for a lot of motivated learning."

School Principal Michael Nakano said most walkway lights aren't working and a light fixture at one building is flooded with water from a roof leak.

Other problems include cracked and buckling walkways where students can trip and fall, and exposed and uninsulated electrical wiring on the floor of a metal shop.In a tractor garage used by farm students, cracked termite-eaten roof beams seem to barely support a rusted tin roof.

"All of this stuff here is rotten with termites," said Brian Blundell, an inspection team member and a school parent. "There's always a chance something's going to break and something is going to come down on someone's head."

School officials and parents say the state has solved some problems, such as recently replacing the gym floor and bleachers. But they feel more needs to be done.

"We're not knocking anybody. Health and safety is an issue, and we need to address it," Nakano said.

Chuck said he plans to work with the school and state Department of Accounting and General Services to solve the problems.

But he noted the state House has voted to reduce repair and maintenance funds for schools to $9.6 million for fiscal 1999-2000, compared with $24.6 million for an annual budget several years ago.

Chuck said the state is unable to pay for all the maintenance at one time. "We just have to keep working on it," he said.

Parents hope the historical significance of the school will attract money to improve its condition. "It deserves to get special treatment," McPhee said. "Lahainaluna is a special treasure for the state."

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