Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Kalihi Kai Elementary School students had a ball yesterday after a blessing of their school's new playground equipment. Joenniel Bersalona was among those enjoying a climb.

Playtime begins
at new Kalihi
Kai playground

A fund-raising effort by the
Star-Bulletin and Starbucks
buys needed equipment

By Pat Gee

It was going to take several more months before Kalihi Kai Elementary School would get any playground equipment, but thanks to Honolulu Star-Bulletin readers and Starbucks, youngsters can have fun now.

Kalihi Kai Elementary School's new red and yellow playground structure was dedicated yesterday, about six months after Star-Bulletin publisher Don Kendall proposed the idea to the state Department of Education.

Vice Principal Clyde Igarashi spoke of the new equipment in glowing terms at a blessing attended by more than 100 kindergartners at the largest elementary school in the Honolulu district.

He said his school had turned in its application for new equipment about two years ago, when older, unsafe structures were torn down. The school was scheduled to have a replacement installed by the department later this year. It was No. 57 on a list of 100 schools that were to be served on a first-come, first-served basis, Igarashi said.

The time frame was sped up significantly and "we wouldn't have had it if it weren't for the Star-Bulletin and Starbucks," Igarashi said.

He thanked the companies for their generosity and praised business and community partnerships that resulted in help for the schools.

After learning that schools would be going without equipment for several years, Kendall said he approached then-DOE Superintendent Paul LeMahieu in August with the idea of building a playground.

When asked which school could best use the play equipment, it took LeMahieu "less than half a second" to recommend Kalihi Kai because of its sizable elementary school population, Kendall said.

"My wife and I have five kids," he said. "A lot of people talk about public education and what's wrong with it.

"We decided to help the public education system and stepped up to the plate to get something done."

For two months, the Star-Bulletin partnered with Starbucks to sell newspapers at the coffee shops, donating all proceeds to Kalihi Kai. One-third of the needed sum was raised this way, and the Star-Bulletin made up for the shortfall, contributing a total of about $25,000, and Starbucks about $5,000. The DOE chipped in $10,000 to pay for the concrete, Kendall said.

Several other schools have approached him for similar support if the Star-Bulletin participates in future fund-raising and "we're considering it," Kendall said. He hoped that other community businesses would join.

"It was our pleasure and our honor that we were able to help you," he told the children.

Taylor Papalagi and Alexander Carter, both 5, said they tried the equipment and found it really fun, especially the rope bridge section. Carter said they had been "waiting for it for a long time -- seven weeks!"

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