The campus will be used by students and staff from King Kamehameha III Elementary, which was destroyed in the fire.

Pono Aina Management, a Native Hawaiian organization based in Waianae, was awarded a $53.7 million base contract to construct a temporary campus for King Kamehameha III Elementary, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday.

The site will serve students and staff from King Kamehameha III Elementary, which burned down beyond repair in the Aug. 8 wildfire. Since October, students and staff have shared facilities and tent structures with Princess Nahienaena Elementary in Lahaina. 

King Kamehameha III’s temporary campus, which will consist of modular buildings, will be located in the Pulelehua project, a mixed-use development near the Kapalua Airport. The Army Corps of Engineers will be responsible for designing and overseeing the project, according to the press release.

A map shows the approximate location of the replacement campus for the damaged King Kamehameha III Elementary School in Lahaina. (Courtesy: Department of Education)

“The children of Lahaina have gone through a heartbreaking trauma, and the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense and our partners can now help the state bring back a bit of normalcy to these young lives,” recovery field office commander Col. Jess Curry in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was quoted as saying.

Adam Weintraub, communications director for Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said the federal government will reimburse 90% of the costs of the temporary campus’ construction. The state is exploring options to increase federal reimbursement to cover the full costs of the project, he added.

The temporary campus will have a capacity of 600 students. As of Oct. 18, the first day of elementary students’ return to the Lahaina campuses, King Kamehameha III Elementary had 380 students enrolled, according to superintendent Keith Hayashi’s presentation to the Board of Education last month. 

Elizabeth McCarty, critical public facilities mission manager at the Corps of Engineers, said the $53.7 million contract to Pono Aina Management covers the costs of clearing the temporary site for construction, running utilities and installing and leasing the modular buildings for six months. 

“We are basically doing everything but furnishing the buildings,” McCarty said.

She estimated that Pono Aina will start construction within one to two weeks, and it should take approximately 95 days to complete the work. But McCarty said she could not provide a timeline for the school’s opening because the Department of Education will still need to furnish the buildings. 

“There’s nothing there but dirt and weeds,” McCarty said, adding that the temporary site currently sits on a large hill that will need to be terraced to accommodate school buildings and a parking lot. 

Keith Hayashi, superintendent of Hawai‘ public schools, announces the Department of Education’s plan to reopen schools in West Maui on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, at Kapalua Airport in Lahaina. The Army Corps of Engineers will be building a temporary replacement school for King Kamehameha III Elementary, while other schools with intact buildings return after fall break. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
Keith Hayashi, superintendent of Hawaii public schools, announced in September that King Kamehameha III’s temporary campus will be built in the Pulelehua project. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

In September, Schools Superintendent Keith Hayashi said the building costs would be almost $5.4 million. But that number only referred to the initial work needed to award the contract, including the costs of market research and preliminary designs for the school, McCarty said.

McCarty said the total value of Pono Aina’s contract could be up to almost $100 million. Every six months, DOE will have the option to renew its lease on the modular buildings for an additional six months, she added. 

The Corps of Engineers and Pono Aina will dismantle the modular buildings and clear the land hosting the temporary school at the end of the contract.

In the case that DOE renews its contract on the modular buildings for the maximum of five years, Pono Aina’s contract will total nearly $100 million. This money covers the initial costs of construction for the temporary campus and the costs of returning the land to its original state once King Kamehameha III students return to a permanent facility, McCarty said.

Pono Aina will be responsible for the maintenance and warranty work of the modular buildings for the entirety of the contract, McCarty added. 

Civil Beat’s education reporting is supported by a grant from Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.

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

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