DOE superintendent at open house about new Kīhei high schoolʻs pedestrian crossing problem
About 70 community members attended Thursday’s open house in Kīhei to learn more details about the five options under consideration for pedestrians and bicyclists to safely cross four-lane Pi’ilani Highway — to go to and from the new Kūlanihākoʻi High School.
There were displays of each option, with a comparison chart of the estimated rough costs, usability, time to complete, perceived safety issues and traffic disruption on Pi’ilani Highway.
The most likely option appears to be an overpass at the entrance to the school — the intersection of residential Kūlanihākoʻi Street and the highway.
That option is the cheapest at $10.8 to $14.1 million and would take the least amount of time to complete at 3 ½ to 5 years. And, any option at the entrance would lure the most student usage, predicted to be 205 when the school is at the expected full enrollment of 1,650 students.
The time clock doesn’t start ticking until an option is chosen and until funding is available for at least the design portion. Right now, there is no funding earmarked for the project.
Also in attendance at the open house, hosted by the Hawai’i State Department of Education, was Superintendent Keith Hayashi, other DOE and school officials, and the G70 design team. They listened to the concerns and desires of parents, teachers and community members — and fielded questions.
But time is ticking away for listening and gathering community feedback.
The long-awaited and much-needed high school for South Maui is supposed to open in January for 30 or so ninth-graders. But Maui County says it cannot issue a certificate of occupancy unless the state Land Use Commission approves an amendment to the condition of an overpass or underpass crossing.
The new ground-level crossing with flashing beacons being built at the new $16 million roundabout does not make the grade.
That means the County, the state Commission and the community need to agree on temporary highway crossing conditions during the years it will take to complete a overpass or underpass.
“It is important for me to be here tonight,” said Superintendent Hayashi, whose department has been criticized for not listening to the community, not being transparent and not accepting an invite to attend a recent County Council committee meeting to discuss the school situation.
He said he spoke with parents, teachers and community members who “expressed to me some concerns, excitement for opening the school,” he said. “One thing it validated for me — it is very important to open Kūlanihākoʻi High School.
“We’ll take the information here, we’ll continue to work with the Department of Transportation to determine the best decisions moving forward. Again, I understand we also have to work with the Land Use Commission and the [Maui County] Council.”
Superintendent Hayashi said the new high school principal, Halle Maxwell, has been working on temporary solutions.
As the County and state agencies deal with the mess and permanent solutions, Maxwell said she is doing what is in her control.
“I stay positive and I stay student-focused,” Maxwell said. “For me, the best thing for the students is to be in the new campus so I can provide them all with the educational opportunities they deserve.”
But, safety of her students also is paramount. To that end, she said she began working on a crossing mitigation program a year ago.
“Iʻm going to take care of my kids,” she said. “Iʻm already in the process of buying one to two shuttle busses.”
She said she is looking at purchasing 14-passenger van shuttles that don’t require the driver to have a special commercial driver’s license, which is important with the current school bus driver shortage.
She believes that is a workable solution for the first year or two because of the low enrollment numbers.
In January, only 30 freshmen currently attending the temporary Kūlanihākoʻi High School at Lokelani Intermediate School and possibly a few more Maui High School ninth graders who live in South Maui will move into the new campus. She said the lack of athletic, band, culinary and other extracurricular programs will keep enrollment low until those programs can be put in place.
For the next school year, sophomores will be added to the mix, until eventually reaching the expected full enrollment.
For the long-term crossing solution, the open house was the last public input piece of the Alternative Grade-Separated Crossing Study that the Department of Education commissioned. There already has been five community focus groups and an online survey.
The DOE would not provide a digital PDF of the G70 informational charts on Thursday. A DOE spokesperson said they would be put on the department’s website sometime next week, saying the department wanted to get public input of the proposed options at the in-person open house first before allowing the entire community to see it.
The five options include three overpasses: at the entrance to the school, Waipu’ilani Gulch and East Waipu’ilani Road. And two underpasses: at the entrance to the school and Waipu’ilani Gulch.
It is not clear who will decide what option will be chosen.
“We want everything to be decided without our undue influences.” said Edward Ige, Facilities Director for the Department of Education. “We are waiting for the results from the study.”