Three options considered for permanent site of King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina

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King Kamehameha III Elementary School temporary campus in Kapalua. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now

On Tuesday night, the Hawaiʻi Department of Education (HIDOE) sought community feedback on the site selection for King Kamehameha III Elementary School to rebuild its permanent location, after its original campus was lost to the Aug. 8, 2023 wildfire.

As of May 2024, there are three sites under consideration: the elementary school’s original location on Front Street, Puʻukoliʻi Village Mauka in Kāʻanapali and a location slightly makai of the current temporary school at the Pulelehua Project, a housing development located near Kapalua Airport.

HIDOE plans to make the decision on the campus in early June, as it hopes students can move into a permanent structure in the next three to five years, officials said on Tuesday night. 

The department’s decision-making is motivated by the timeline to move out of the temporary school site. King Kamehameha III has a maximum of five years to continue using the modular classrooms provided by FEMA and US Army Corps of Engineers, but its lease amount will rise incrementally after three years. According to HIDOE officials, staying at the temporary facilities until 2029 would likely come at a cost exceeding $100 million.

Department officials said they can expedite permitting and building through a pre-existing agreement with the Pulelehua developer, in which the developer has agreed to dedicate 13 acres of land for a permanent school site not more than a football field away from its current location. According to HIDOE, it is the only location that meets the three- to five-year timeline.


HIDOE noted that both Puʻukoli’i Village Mauka housing project and Front Street locations lack infrastructure needed to build a school within the timeline. “They don’t have infrastructure ready right at this moment, so that would be a little bit of longer term timeline,” said HIDOE Complex Area Superintendent Rebecca Winkie. 

“We’re hearing from the developer [of Puʻukoliʻi Village Mauka] that Master Plan modifications could push it out another 10 years,” continued Winkie. “The most recent school that was built on Maui, in Kīhei, took 20-plus years. So we’re not looking at that timeline. We want to get our students into a permanent school as soon as possible.”

Other factors in their decision-making include finding a site with proximity to students and having the potential to grow campus facilities on the site in the future.

“There’s no right decision here,” said HIDOE Deputy Superintendent Heidi Armstrong. “We’re just going to make the best decision we can with the information.”

  • HIDOE presents the three potential sites to build “Kam III” on Tuesday, May 21. The meeting took place inside the modular cafeteria on its temporary campus. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • HIDOE Deputy Superintendent Heidi Armstrong (left) and Complex Area Superintendent Rebecca Winkie (right) address questions from community members on Tuesday. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • Community members provide input for the location of the permanent King Kamehameha III Elementary School. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • An option comparison of the sites shows that Front Street and Kaanapali locations have a longer timeline than Pulelehua, which is the farthest along in terms of planning and permitting. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now

Community members voiced feedback and concerns at Tuesday night’s meeting. Some said they believed that HIDOE had already made up their mind before listening to community input.


“You are obviously saying that Front Street is not available […] And you’re saying that Kāʻanapali 2020 is not going to happen for 10 years. So you’re saying basically the only option is Pulelehua,” said teacher Justin Hughey, addressing HIDOE officials. “I have a concern that this really isn’t an intake, a genuine listening tour of what is available and how we can move forward with what the community wants.”

Winkie said that HIDOE had not already made a decision by the time of the community meeting, but clarified that they had a “recommendation,” which was Pulelehua. 

Armstrong emphasized that schools sites are, in most cases, predetermined by HIDOE, and rarely is community input taken at this stage in planning, saying this might even be the first time. 

“We haven’t had any historical situation like this. This is the first time. Typically, we have several years to plan.”

HIDOE Deputy Superintendent Heidi Armstrong

Hawaiʻi Sen. Angus McKelvey, who represents the Senate District that includes West Maui, said that the community meeting had a large turnout but may not have engaged as many people as were interested. 


“A lot of people are interested in what’s going on, but they’re displaced to the other side of the island and can’t stay at this meeting,” McKelvey said on Tuesday night. 

The meeting also coincided with the Homeowners Rebuilding Informational Workshop, which took place at the Lahaina Civic Center Tuesday evening at the same time as HIDOE’s community meeting.

Those who attended HIDOE’s meeting gave feedback on sticky notes and via scribes during a breakout section to later be recorded.

  • A number of sticky notes with community input and feedback line the walls of the modular cafeteria on Tuesday. The sticky notes are beside school posters that are taped, rather than tacked, to the wall, since the US Army Corps of Engineers will eventually collect and reuse the modular units for other projects. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • A sticky note reads, “We don’t even know how many students will come back.” PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • A number of sticky notes with community input and feedback line the walls of the modular cafeteria on Tuesday. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • Another sticky note by community member James Kimmey says, “[I] strongly believe the original location should be the place to rebuild Kam III. The Pulelehua location should be for community growth.” PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • A sticky note says that Kam III is needed for Lahaina town families, while Pulelehua should still be built to accommodate growth. PC: JD Pells / Maui Now
  • A community member writes “Two schools would make more sense!” on a sticky note to be recorded by HIDOE as public input. JD Pells / Maui Now

“We don’t even know how many students will come back,” read one of the sticky notes.

HIDOE officials said they aren’t planning to redraw school district boundaries at this time, as “there’s so much movement within the island that it’s not a good time to change the boundaries.”

Although future enrollment numbers remain uncertain, overcrowding at West Maui’s two public elementary schools, King Kamehameha III and Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena, has been a longstanding issue for decades.

Justin Hughey, a former teacher at King Kamehameha III for nearly two decades before transferring to Kahului after the fire, recalls similar discussions about building a school at the Pulelehua site in 2007. That year’s initial plans for a third school at the Pulelehua location aimed to alleviate overcrowding at the existing schools, but not to replace either of them.

“We should be talking about [building] two elementary schools, because if we don’t start now, in five to seven years, when all the people come back to fill the houses that are here, you’re going to have an overcrowded Princess Nāhiʻenaʻena and an overcrowded King Kamehameha III, right back where we started,” said Hughey.

“The focus right now is where are we going to move from the temporary site, but I think your point is very valid,” responded Winkie. 

The recording of the permanent site community meeting can be viewed on the King Kamehameha III Elementary School website.

JD Pells
JD is a news reporter for Maui Now. He has contributed stories to TCU 360, Fort Worth Report and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. JD interned at Maui Now in 2021. He graduated from the Bob Schieffer College of Communication at Texas Christian University, with a bachelor's in journalism and business in 2022, before coming back home to Maui with the purpose of serving his community. He can be reached at
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