A school for Kaka‘ako

HCDA redevelopment plan must include considerations like schools and other healthy neighborhood features.

Gary Chun

The Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA), the state agency in charge of the redevelopment of Kaka‘ako, states in its promotional video that, “the Kaka‘ako district now stands to become Hawai‘i’s first true live-work-play community—a beacon of forward thinking and planning.” If this is the case, then the plan should focus on more than the luxury high rises that may soon come to dominate the district’s skyline.

With $200 million in area infrastructure upgrades expected to accommodate upwards of 30,000 residents by the year 2030 (a 60 percent increase over the current population), a major consideration ought to be ensuring that the children there will be provided an education.

But when it comes to calculating the influx of school-age children that will become part of the population of a newly redeveloped Kaka‘ako, we’re left with educated guesses at best.

In particular, the State Department of Education (DOE) and landowner Kamehameha Schools (KS) have been tossing guesses back and forth.

At a recent town meeting at the Honolulu Civil Beat newsroom in Kaimuki, Elizabeth Hokada, director of the financial assets division at Kamehameha Schools, said that meetings with education superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi have assured Kamehameha that student capacity will be met as part of “a very interesting project” to building schools in a forward-thinking manner.

KS has also committed itself to building a healthy neighborhood using the existing building at 680 Ala Moana Boulevard as its signature interactive and innovative community hub.

As we reported last month, executive director Anthony Ching of HCDA said that the DOE’s Impact Fee Structure will help determine the development plan for schools in Kaka‘ako. Ray L’Heureux, assistant superintendent of the DOE’s Office of School Facilities and Support Services, said that he and his planning section are in the beginning stages of growth projections for building area schools there.

L’Heureux agrees with Ching’s past assessment that middle and high school needs could be met by sending students to the existing Central and Washington Middle Schools, and McKinley High School.

The need for a new elementary school, however, will likely have to be addressed by building new campuses, as the nearby Royal and Queen Ka‘ahumanu Elementary schools are either at or near full capacity. (The private, non-profit preschool, Seagull Schools has announced that it plans to renovate a warehouse space on the grounds of the waterfront park.)

L’Heureux added that school impact fees, which have been assigned in the past to residential builders for the cost of land and construction for expansion of school facilities, would not come into play here. “Kaka‘ako is not an Impact Fee zone, therefore monies could not be used for, say, portable classrooms,” he said. “That kind of thinking is no longer an answer to address capacity issues. We must provide permanent learning spaces.”

As HCDA continues forward with the intended redevelopment of Kaka‘ako, considerations like elementary schools, grocery stores and other features essential to a healthy neighborhood must be included in the plan. Developers like KS need to continue to work with State agencies like the DOE to make sure that the development is done intelligently and for the benefit of the complete spectrum of people who will supposedly live, work and play there.