Alexander Academy Embraces New Home in Hāli‘imaile

August 7, 2017, 10:46 AM HST · Updated August 8, 8:16 AM
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A non-profit dance academy on Maui is now settling into its new studio in Hāliʻimaile after scrambling to vacate the Old Kula Community Center building several months ago.

The Kula building, which was home to the Alexander Academy of the Performing Arts for 20 years, was vacated in May due to the discovery of chipped and deteriorating lead paint.

After juggling some 200 students to several upcountry locations and embarking upon a significant renovation project in June, the school is now set to celebrate its permanent arrival at its new studio home at 870 Hāliʻimaile Road in Makawao, with an Open House on Aug. 9 from 4 to 6 p.m.

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    School administrators say they received a one-week eviction notice from the County’s Department of Parks & Recreation at the end of April, at a time when the school’s performing company had just one month before debuting its annual stage production on June 3 and 4.

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    “Due to the community’s quick and supportive response, AAPA was able to secure temporary spaces for May’s classes and rehearsals at Seabury Hall, Kula Elementary School, and a student’s private studio in Kula,” administrators said.

    With one hurdle overcome and preparation for the show back on track, the biggest challenge remained: finding a permanent studio home. In addition to researching what it would take to salvage the Old Kula Community Center, AAPA Director Danelle Watson felt it necessary to simultaneously search for a new space entirely.

    “We wanted all options on the table,” Watson said. “It was hard to think of letting go of the Old Kula Community Center, but with our summer classes starting mid-June, we had to prioritize finding a place for our students to continue their dance education as soon as possible”.

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    A committee of past and present studio parents and friends was appointed to lead the search so that Watson could concentrate on the June production.

    “Traditionally, the month before our June production is already one of our busiest times of the year, so to add on this high-stakes search for a new building was an exhaustive process that we weren’t sure how would end”, said Watson.

    Dori Rybacki-Smith, an attorney whose son will be starting his fifth year at AAPA, reached out to the property manager of Maui Land & Pineapple Company to inquire about the company’s old executive offices in Hāliʻimaile.

    “Being familiar with the area, I was aware that the building had been empty for an extended period of time. I felt the building offered great potential for Alexander Academy to grow its mission of providing access to high-quality dance instruction for the Maui community,” said Rybacki-Smith. “We are all very grateful that Maui Land & Pineapple Company was able to work with Alexander Academy to establish its new home.”

    A lease was confirmed within the month of May, so that the school could move in and start renovations in the week available between its June performances and the start of the summer session June 12.

    “We started tearing down walls the day of our first dress rehearsal for the show,” recalled Watson. “Two days after our show closed, we had student and parent volunteers at both locations, packing, cleaning, and moving. It was an absolute blur of activity to get it all done within a week’s time–and we did.”

    Local contractor JD Pacific assisted in the renovation process to turn separate, walled offices into open dance spaces. Phase one in June created the main studio that has been in use all summer; phase two that is currently underway is building a second studio out of three back offices, to be finished in time for the start of the fall session; and phase three will convert a conference room into a third studio over the winter break.

    “When you think about how much we have been able to accomplish in such little time,” Watson said, “It demonstrates the value of this school and the high regard in which the community holds us–we are so grateful.”

    Administrators say the move to Hāliʻimaile has been a significant upgrade in terms of the facility’s square footage and amenities, allowing AAPA to increase the number and variety of classes it offers and add new teachers to its year-round faculty.

    Starting Aug. 14, students will be able to take classes in hip hop, break dancing, acrobatics, and multiple levels of jazz, in addition to the regular curriculum of ballet, contemporary, and body conditioning. A series of tap classes will also be introduced in January 2018 for the Spring calendar.

    Administrators also say Hāliʻimaile’s more centralized location provides greater access for students across the island who wish to take advantage of AAPA’s offerings and affordable tuition rates. Even when the school was based in Kula, students came from as far as Hāʻiku, Kīhei, Lahaina, and even Hāna to attend class.

    “We look forward to seeing how we will continue to grow now that we are established in a new neighborhood that is significantly closer to other parts of Maui, while still being able to stay Upcountry,” said Watson.

    Given the uncertainty surrounding the fate of the Old Kula Community Center, AAPA is focusing on making Hāliʻimaile its home for the foreseeable future.

    “We still hope the Old Kula Community Center can be saved. That building holds a lot of history and cultural significance for generations of Maui’s families; not just as a dance school, but as a Japanese language school, and a place for different community groups to gather,” said Watson. “It is an incredibly special place”.

    “The heart of Alexander Academy is our dedicated director, Ms. Watson, our amazing teachers, the students, the families, and the surrounding community. Now that we have found a new home for our collective heart, we can return our focus on continuing the school’s legacy of providing excellent dance instruction and memorable performing opportunities for Maui’s dancers,” said Rybacki-Smith.

    The AAPA Open House on Wednesday, Aug, 9 is for current, new, and potential students to visit the studio building and see the progress made on renovations. It will also be an opportunity to meet with AAPA teachers, register for class, purchase discounted dancewear, and ask questions about the new Fall schedule starting Aug. 14, 2017.

    Miss Amelia and Elementary 1 Ballet Students, photo Chelsea Fine.

    Students work in center during the intermediate/advanced ballet class in Hāliʻimaile. Photo by Chelsea Fine.

    Students perform for their families on the last day of their week-long summer camp at the Hāliʻimaile studio. Photo by Danelle Watson.

    Students waiting backstage to practice the finale bows during dress rehearsal for the Alexander Academy Performing Company performances in June, photo Absalon Figueroa.

    New studio at 870 Hāliʻimaile Road, Makawao, HI 96768. Photo courtesy of Alexander Academy of Performing Arts

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