The state could be saddled with some big school construction costs in coming decades if current housing and population growth predictions hold true for a 4-mile swath of urban Honolulu, according to a Department of Education report.

The Department of Education is expected to schedule a public hearing as the next step in creating a new school impact fee district.
The Department of Education is expected to schedule a public hearing as the next step in creating a new school impact fee district. Department of Education

The Department of Education is proposing the creation of a Kalihi to Ala Moana School Impact Fee District to help offset an anticipated $227 million in possible construction costs.

The district would be the fifth such area created by the Board of Education since lawmakers passed Act 245 in 2007, authorizing the board to collect fees from housing developers in identified “high growth” areas of the state.

The DOE’s construction predictions are based on plans by the City and County of Honolulu to approve up to 35,000 new residential units in the identified area — and a proposal by the Hawaii Public Housing Authority for an additional 4,000 new units.

That much development would mean the Department of Education would max out existing school space and need to create classrooms for as many as 8,500 additional students by 2035 along the easternmost section of the Honolulu rail line — the equivalent of half a dozen elementary schools, 1.5 high schools and 1.5 middle schools. 

The DOE is proposing a fee of $584 and .0016 acres of land for every unit built in the area. The fee in lieu of land would be $8,790. If all 39,000 anticipated units were constructed, the impact fees would net 63.5 acres of land and $22.7 million in “construction contributions.”

Act 245 requires developers in identified school impact fee districts to provide land for schools and pay 10 percent of construction costs for building new schools or expanding existing ones. The remaining 90 percent of construction cost is shouldered by state taxpayers. 

The Board of Education voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow the DOE to schedule a public hearing on the special district — the next big step in the approval process.

When the rail is completed and operational, what developments are actually proposed, and whether lawmakers approve pending legislation that would give the DOE greater flexibility in how it spends impact fees are among the myriad variables that impact current DOE estimates in the proposal.

In the past, the department has relied on “more specific unit counts from residential developers in the analysis of other school impact districts,” the report states.

“However, the DOE cannot postpone establishing an impact district because of the far more complex nature of any future school space in a densely populated area where land ownership is scattered, parcels are small and land is expensive,” the report says.

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