A total of $18 million dollars will be steered into the repair or replacement of up to 100 school playgrounds across the state as the result of a partnership between the Department of Education and local nonprofit Hawaii 3R’s. 

The plan was launched Monday by Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke against a backdrop of brightly colored play equipment at Pauoa Elementary School, installed under an earlier improvement effort.

There are currently 545 active playgrounds in Hawaii public schools, but many of them are outdated and in need of repair or replacement. The state’s climate, particularly its salty air, accelerates the corrosion of playground structures and their foundations. 

Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke and students at Pauoa Elementary School check out the new playground installed by nonprofit Hawaii 3R’s. Viola Gaskell/CivilBeat/2022

A new playground costs Hawaii 3R’s between $75,000 and $175,000 to complete, depending on how much of the structure needs to be ripped out, according to the organization’s Interim Director Kalowena Komeiji. Expenses are higher closer to the beach, where more durable materials are needed. 

The DOE and Hawaii 3R’s do not have a comprehensive list of the schools that will benefit, but Superintendent Keith Hayashi said the department is in the process of building an inventory. Equipment age and condition, as well as location, will be used to determine which schools most urgently need improvements. 

Hayashi, a former elementary school teacher, said playgrounds assist in the development of social-emotional and critical thinking skills and boost coordination and problem solving abilities. 

“Our playgrounds are competing with digital devices for students’ attention, especially after the pandemic — when students heavily relied on tablets and laptops — and we want our students to be excited again about staying outside, using their imagination and socializing with one another,” Hayashi said. 

The bulk of the funding will go to elementary schools where playgrounds are more of a priority, but some of the $18 million will end up building a new middle school playground on each island. 

The announcement honored Sen. Daniel Inouye on the 10th anniversary of his death. Inouye established Hawaii 3R’s in 2001 to address a backlog of repair and maintenance work within DOE schools. The concept was to bring in volunteers who could help with tasks like painting, resurfacing and landscaping. 

Luke said the backlog then was for around $500 million in repairs. Twenty years later, there are still backlogs to address, especially on outer islands, according to BOE Member Kili Namauʻu who said principals in Maui County are often desperate to have basic repair work done in classrooms, much less playgrounds. 

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