Heavy machinery created a new road Tuesday that will provide access to the new Mililani Mauka II Elementary School in the subdivision now under construction.

Builder pursues
Mililani housing project

Castle & Cooke says it will still
build homes if it can reach a deal
on when schools must be constructed

By Diana Leone

Castle & Cooke Homes is backing off previous suggestions that it might have to kill its massive housing project planned for Central Oahu if it is forced to build schools first.

"It is our intent to go forward," company President Harry Saunders III said yesterday.

Last week, the state Land Use Commission proposed approving two of three phases of the company's Koa Ridge subdivision near Mililani, but only if Castle & Cooke would build schools to support residents before any of the 3,237 new single- and multifamily homes are occupied. The proposal was unprecedented for a major housing project in Hawaii, observers said.

While Saunders initially said the requirement could jeopardize the entire project, he indicated yesterday that the company is willing to work with the state if the commission was willing to soften its position on when the schools have to be ready.

"It's a timing issue," he told the Star-Bulletin. "We have had a number of conversations with the Department of Education, trying to find a solution or alternative to the amendment that's there," Saunders said, referring to Land Commissioner Stanley Roehrig's stipulation.

"We're not sure it (the DOE) could even go there -- to build a school before there are students," Saunders said. "We need to have a trigger (when schools should be ready), and DOE needs to decide that trigger."

A potential model for the company is financing agreements used in other high-growth areas of the state: on Maui and in Kapolei.

One example is the planned Maui Lani Elementary in Wailuku, which was planned by the community, is being financed by investors, and built by developer Bill Mills to state specifications.

The developer will lease the building back to the state for annual payments over a period of years.

Saunders said if the company could help finance school construction, then lease the school back to the district, "we'd love to have something like that."

At its June 12 meeting, the commission indicated it would approve changing 572 acres in Koa Ridge Makai and 191 acres in Waiawa to urban from rural districts, pending requirements that include Castle & Cooke analyzing water and traffic needs of its proposed development and resolving the schools issue. Its request to redistrict 485 more acres dubbed Koa Ridge Mauka was denied.

Hawaii Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto praised the Land Use Commission's proposed ruling as being supportive of education.

"The way it's done now, schools come up after there's a population threshold, and in the meantime the kids go out of the neighborhoods," Hamamoto said. "It's sort of a chicken-and-egg issue."

Tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. on the fourth floor of the State Office Tower, 235 S. Beretania St., the commission will hear final arguments for the redistricting from Castle & Cooke and its co-applicant, the Pacific Health Center, which wants to build a 210-acre health-care campus.

Intervening in the case are the Sierra Club and Mililani Neighborhood Board No. 25. The Sierra Club opposes the redistricting, saying there is ample land already zoned for development, and adding more will tax the water and transportation systems.

The neighborhood board, meanwhile, was the instigator of stronger requirements on developers for adequate schools, "after 30 years of witnessing development continuing and classrooms diminishing," said member Mary Anne Selander.

"The major reason we're doing this now is what they have done to us in Mililani Mauka," Selander said. "The schools have been too small, too late, and this has completely affected the life of all people in this community."

Selander and fellow neighborhood board member Laura Brown say that multitracking (having groups of children take vacation on a rotating basis) at Mililani Middle School has disrupted family schedules, and they fear that Mililani Mauka II Elementary ultimately will have to multitrack because it is being built too small.

Construction on Mililani Mauka II began Monday, and a first phase is expected to be useable in the fall of 2003.

Selander, whose family was among the first 100 in Mililani, said that "since 1971, Castle & Cooke has been misrepresenting where we were" in school building. "Twice, the community was able to have them stop building (homes) until they built a school."

Selander also blames the DOE for underestimating the number of youngsters expected in schools and letting developers get off light by only donating land and not helping build schools.

Brown said that, over the years, land earmarked by developers for schools has been released by the DOE and "turned into multifamily housing by the City Council."

Public-private financing can be worked out so "they're not expecting the developer to completely pay for schools," Brown said. "They're going to get paid back."

Added Saunders: "All of us are looking for some assurance that schools will come in on a timely manner. It's a benefit to us, the developer, if we can tell people when schools will be ready."

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