Monday, April 2, 2001

Kauluwela Elementary Principal Gwen Lee points out
potentially hazardous mercury light fixtures
in the cafeteria.

School needs
costly fixes,
principal warns

Kauluwela School's cafeteria
poses potential hazards
to students, she says

By Treena Shapiro

In the Kauluwela Elementary School cafeteria, there are cracks in the ceiling, termite holes in the floor, and dust and fumes from H-1 blowing in through louvers that are falling apart.

Noise is a problem as well. Situated 30 feet from the freeway, the building is subject to the continuous roar of traffic, sirens and sometimes a sickening "thud" when a car gets into an accident, said school Principal Gwen Lee.

The 119-year-old building, which has no air conditioning, also serves as an assembly hall and gymnasium.

The school, located between Liliha Shopping Center and the H-1 freeway, has been cited by the Department of Health three times over the past six years because of a leak in the roof that causes paint to bubble, flake and fall into the food service area.

Lee said she is especially concerned because the ceiling contains encapsulated asbestos, and particles of the dangerous material could be released as it deteriorates.

It would cost $2.28 million to construct a new cafeteria, but instead, the state Department of Accounting and General Services has been making "Band-Aid" repairs that have no lasting effects, according to state Sen. Rod Tam (D, Downtown-Nuuanu). Although the Legislature has approved money for the cafeteria in the past, the funds have never been released, Tam said.

Reached at home yesterday, Department of Education spokesman Greg Knudsen said that he was not aware of the specific problems with Kauluwela Elementary School but that "there's not been enough (in the budget) to cover all of the projects statewide."

The deteriorating outdoor stage at Kauluwela Elementary
School has several cracks similar to this one.

For a large capital-improvement project such as a new cafeteria, "normally it needs to present a considerable health and safety risk, so we just have to look at it in the context of the whole state and the construction needs at all schools," he said.

In the budget before the Legislature, more funding has been proposed for repair and maintenance and less for large capital improvements, Knudsen said.

According to Lee, DAGS has sent workers to repair one crack in the kitchen three times. "They just came, scraped the bubbles off and repainted it," Lee said.

Although the cafeteria's stage floor was rebuilt due to termite damage, the termite-infested foundation remained, and new holes have begun to appear.

Overcrowding is another problem.

The school has 568 students and 40 faculty members. The cafeteria's maximum capacity is 500.

The problem is partially solved by staggering lunches. However, the school cannot hold assemblies for the whole student body without breaking the fire code, for which the school was cited in 1997.

Recognizing potential dangers in the cafeteria, at one point the school tried to have students eat lunch in their classrooms, but "students would pick food up from the cafeteria, bring it back to the classroom. Some would drop it," she said.

"Then the Department of Health cited us because of dust in the food."

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