A place for healing: Temporary King Kamehameha III campus blessed

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Teachers and staff of King Kamehameha III Elementary School gather in prayer Monday after a blessing and dedication ceremony at the school’s temporary campus at Pulelehua. PC: Brian Perry

The dedication and blessing of the temporary campus for Kamehameha III Elementary School, makai of Kapalua Airport, was a milestone for the community of Lahaina on Monday as residents took another step in recovering from the August wildfires.

The fire’s fast-moving flames killed 101 people, leveled most of Lahaina town and reduced the beloved elementary school to ash and debris, displacing 600 young students, their teachers and staff.

Now, with the completion of a temporary school campus, students, teachers and staff again have a place to call their own. Since mid-October, they have been sharing a campus at Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary School.

“We’re really ready to have our own space again,” said English learner coordinator and teacher Peachie Garcia, who helps students for whom English is not their first or only language. “It’s kind of a challenge, you know, having to share space with another campus.”

English learner coordinator and teacher Peachie Garcia said the new temporary campus for King Kamehameha III students and staff is a chance for the school community to heal after the devastating wildfires in August. PC: Brian Perry

Beyond that, “it’s a space for healing for us,” she said.


After losing all but a backpack full of belongings when her Front Street rental home went up in flames, Garcia said she prays the new campus will be “a space for us to thrive.”

“We’ve just been surviving,” she said. “We didn’t really expect to be moving again and transitioning to this new campus within the school year, but they made it happen.”

There have been some worries and hesitation about another transition, another interruption for learning for students and teachers, Garcia said, but “I think it’ll turn out to be the best for all of us.”

About 350 students are expected to report to the temporary school campus on April 1, the first day of classes, said King Kamehameha III Principal Ian Haskins. Teachers and staff began moving in on Monday.

Relocating to the new school campus will be “one of many steps to get back to normalcy,” Haskins said. “I believe on April 1st when they come through these gates will be another momentous moment.”


Students’ arrival on campus next week will mark the fourth transition for the school this academic year. The Lahaina town campus closed immediately after the fires. Students temporarily enrolled in other educational options, transitioning to learning hubs in community spaces, and reopening for full, in-person learning last October in tent structures co-located on the Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena Elementary campus.

“This year has been full of challenges on many levels with lots of layers of emotions,” Haskins said. “Through the three previous transitions, we have persevered by working together. This has been an unprecedented year and together we can create the best environment for our students, teachers and the whole community.”

The new campus has 30 air-conditioned modular classrooms, an administration building, library, student support center, cafeteria and play areas. Some classrooms will be used as resource rooms for art, computer lab and special education, and for Kaiapuni Hawaiian language immersion education. The new campus has capacity for 600 students.

After returning from spring break, students will begin the school’s fourth quarter.

“This is about our keiki first and foremost in our community,” said Gov. Josh Green during a blessing and dedication ceremony. “It is a small miracle that in just 95 days a school has been created, and we need some small miracles after the fire that we suffered on Aug. 8.”

Gov. Josh Green takes a moment to congratulate King Kamehameha III Elementary School Principal Ian Haskins after a blessing and dedication ceremony for the temporary school campus on Monday. PC: Brian Perry

“This is the place where most kids are going to find their normal moments, their stable moments,” he said.

Hawaiʻi Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi said the new campus exemplifies the department’s goal of unifying and moving ahead with a singular purpose.

“In the department, we talk about and embrace the idea of neʻepapa, which means to come together as one, united in purpose, and moving forward together in unison,” he said. “Being here today and dedicating this new campus for King Kamehameha III is a prime example of that. I look forward to Principal Haskins and our students and staff being able to fill this space with aloha and a love for learning for many years to come.”

US Rep. Jill Tokuda said she experienced a “chicken-skin moment” walking on the new campus and seeing “this become not just a school but a place of healing.”

With Gov. Josh Green looking on, US Rep. Jill Tokuda said visiting the new temporary campus was a “chicken-skin” moment to “see this become not just a school but a place of healing.” PC: Brian Perry

Tokuda shared that she recently returned from visiting Paradise, Calif., hosted there by US Rep. Doug LaMalfa. More than five years ago, the infamous Camp Fire devastated Paradise and Butte County, killing 85 people and displacing thousands.

With the Paradise community focused on rebuilding and recovery, “I found hope there,” she said. “And I really do know that it is absolutely possible that while we have been in an unimaginable tragedy, this is the first step… Lahaina and our people, we will be back.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency helped fund the approximately $78 million school while the US Army Corps of Engineers handled the construction of the project and sub-contracted work to Pono Aina Management, a Native Hawaiian organization.

“We got this work done because the hands behind the tools were vested in the community and committed to delivering for their families, their neighbors, their neighborhoods and their community,” said Col. Eric Swenson, recovery field office commander with the Army Corps.

Swenson called the 95-day project a “Guinness World Record-like feat,” which actually took 85 days of work because “Mother Nature took 10 of those days.”

West Maui state Rep. Elle Cochran released a statement: “I grew up in Lahaina; this is my home. Lahaina is a special place. But it’s not the beaches, mountains or tourist attractions that make Lahaina special. It’s our people and the way we love, treat and care for one another. So, for our keiki and community, I am grateful for today.”

The dedication of the campus was marked with a Hawaiian ceremony that included pū and ‘oli led by cultural practitioner Kaniala Masoe. About two dozen teachers were also in attendance and held hands in a circle following the blessing to sing a Lahaina mele.

Gov. Josh Green took a few minutes after blessing ceremonies on Monday to play pick-up basketball with ball handler Michael Peacock, (center) Federal Emergency Management Agency external affairs liaison; and US Rep. Doug LaMalfa of California’s 1st Congressional District. PC: Brian Perry
Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
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