Farrington High School plans to break ground Thursday on a campus redesign that will provide much-needed upgrades while still maximizing existing buildings to save money and time.

The Legislature has committed $5 million in state funds to the project. This first phase is expected to cost $3 million. All four phases could take between 10 and 20 years to finish, and the current cost estimate is $100 million.

Civil Beat reported earlier this year about leaky ceilings, moldy walls and crumbling pedestrian ramps, which will be fixed with the campus overhaul. But the benefits to students promise to be far more than aesthetic. The redesign is expected to improve student life in four key ways:

  • Creating Smaller Learning Communities, or academies, similar to colleges or departments within a university.
  • Creating a pedestrian-friendly campus with restricted car access and plenty of outdoor furniture and other equipment to encourage outdoor gatherings.
  • Preserving Farrington’s legacy as one of the oldest campuses in Hawaii through signs and student exhibits.
  • Promoting environmental sustainability through solar energy generation, rainwater harvesting, organic gardening and student-led recycling programs.

Here is an aerial sketch of what the completed project is expected to look like:

Stage 1A: Culture Change — Smaller Learning Communities

Juniors and seniors at Farrington are already required to be in one of the 10 or so academies at the school, which range from creative arts to international studies.

The groundbreaking on Thursday is for the first Smaller Learning Community, which will house the school’s law and justice academy.

“It’s going to be a pilot, and eventually our academies for the whole school will be grouped together in certain areas of the school,” said 10th Grade Principal Ronald Oyama.

The new design will allow students and teachers in one academy to create a small sub-community in which all the academy students attend the same English and math courses in the same building together. They will rarely have to leave their smaller learning community except for electives or a science course that requires a lab elsewhere on campus.

“Studies have shown if they’re all in the same general area, teachers find it easier to service the kids,” Oyama said. “You get ownership of your area, and actually, you’re breaking down a school of 2,500 students to maybe 100 to 150 kids.”

Sustainability begins with the redesign process itself, because the school plans to gut existing buildings, instead of starting over with all-new construction.

The classrooms in all the new buildings will also have a generic design, equipped with furniture and technology that will allow them to be transformed for multiple purposes and class sizes.

With 2,500 students enrolled, Farrington is so full right now that it has four temporary classroom buildings. But they’re being used inefficiently, according to the school’s redesign plan, published by San Francisco-based MKThink. Fewer than 70 percent of current “classroom hours” are used for instruction, the plan states.

But Oyama said when students and teachers vacate the building being upgraded next year, it will be an opportunity for teachers to test how badly they need those multipurpose rooms.

From now on, Farrington teachers won’t have a designated classroom from which they operate, but they will become “floaters,” occupying a different classroom every period to ensure that every room is used every period, or “100 percent,” as Oyama puts it. During the periods they’re not instructing, teachers will share a collaborative work space.

“We want to be able to use the rooms sort of like collegiate atmosphere,” Oyama said, pointing out that Kapolei High School and Punahou School already successfully do something similar. “Teachers share an office space, but use the rooms interchangeably. It works really well for us because of our limited classrooms.”

The groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Thursday on the Farrington campus.

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