The Kihei campus is the first new public high school to open in Hawaii in 23 years.

Maui officials have granted permission for the first public high school ever built in South Maui to finally open its doors to students. 

Maui County locator map

After months of inter-agency negotiations over how students would get across Kihei’s bustling highway in front of the new campus, county and state officials have reached an agreement that will allow Kulanihakoʻi High to welcome students when school starts Aug. 7.

Nearly 30 people gathered at a news conference Thursday to watch Mayor Richard Bissen, Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi and other dignitaries announce the opening of the $245 million campus, the first public high school to open in Hawaii since 2000. 

The school’s opening had been delayed for months because the DOE failed to follow a 2013 order that required the agency to build a protected pedestrian crossing over the four-lane highway in front of the school. There’s still not funding for that project, and it’s unclear what the timeline is.

But in the meantime, Maui County has agreed to allow the school to open if education officials ensure that every student is driven to the new campus. 

“The students will be arriving by vehicle only – and not face the street crossing that the South Maui community rightfully raised concerns about,” Bissen said at the press conference.

Over the last year, Kihei’s high school students attended Kulanihakoʻi’s temporary location a mile away at Lokelani Intermediate School, where multiple teachers crammed into the same portable buildings. For those educators and their students, the opening of the most state-of-the-art public campus in Hawaii couldn’t come soon enough.

“Those of us who have been in the Department of Education for a very long time have never quite seen something like this before,” Kulanihakoʻi principal Halle Maxwell, who’s worked as an educator for decades, told reporters and county officials during a tour of the new campus.

Between 120 and 150 freshmen and sophomores are expected to start at the campus in August. Crews are still working to construct several more buildings, and the completed school will be able to serve 1,600 students. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
County, state and education officials crowded into the school’s library on Thursday to announce Maui County’s permit approval that allows the school to be occupied. The county granted a “temporary” certificate of occupancy and plans to award the DOE a permanent one after the agency builds a protected crossing over the highway. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
Mayor Richard Bissen said Thursday that the new school will also serve as an emergency evacuation shelter for the entire community during disasters like floods, fires and hurricanes. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
Kulanihakoʻi High was designed to use as much energy as it produces — called “net zero.” It doesn’t have any solar panels yet but officials say they plan to install them in the future. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
“It’s really quite spectacular,” principal Halle Maxwell said of the campus while giving the tour. This new school year will mark the first time during her decadeslong career that she hasn’t worked on an older campus that’s relied largely on portable buildings. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
Maxwell said she plans to keep class sizes at the new school between 12 and 18 students, with a focus on collaboration and project-based learning. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
All of the school’s new buildings have air conditioning. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
Maxwell gave a tour of the school’s administration office. In a separate building, there’s a gathering space for teachers, which includes a private wellness room that can be used by nursing employees. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
The new high school will have a health room staffed by a nurse who can provide routine physicals and immunizations so students never have to leave campus. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
The site of a future water feature, which will draw water from a well that’s been funneled to feed the property’s landscaping. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)
For decades, South Maui students who attended public school had to travel upwards of 10 miles away to campuses in the central part of the island. (Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2023)

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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