DOE request to open school without a crossing denied
Decision to delay school launch date; commission says blame lies with DOE.
Decision to delay school launch date; commission says blame lies with DOE
The state Land Use Commission on Wednesday denied the state Department of Education’s request to allow it to open Kihei high school without an underpass or overpass for pedestrians.
The move will push back the opening of the long-awaited high school, which has suffered multiple setbacks over the years. DOE officials had been eyeing an August 2022 opening for the high school with fewer than 200 students, according to department documents. A DOE spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that the school will not open in 2022 due to the LUC decision.
The condition to build a grade-separated crossing, such as an underpass or overpass, had been in place since 2013, when the LUC granted a boundary amendment to allow the development and construction of the school on 77 acres mauka of the intersection of Piilani Highway and Kulanihakoi Street. Citing studies that it’s not warranted, the DOE later sought to remove the condition, prompting pushback from the public, which wanted the crossing to protect the safety of the community and students.
“It is a shame that this high school that is almost built will not be open on time with the grade-separated (pedestrian) crossing,” said LUC First Vice Chairman Dan Giovanni, who presided over the meeting. “But to me, the fault of that is DOE, it’s not DOT, it’s not the County of Maui who had tried to find resolution, and it’s not the LUC, who clarified their position on numerous occasions in the last eight years.”
Giovanni said the DOE just didn’t want to spend the money on the crossing as he cited testimony from education officials that no budget request was put in for the grade-separated crossings since the condition was ordered by the LUC.
If the request had been made in 2014, the crossing could have been built already, he said.
Commissioner Lee Ohigashi, who is the Maui representative on the commission, made the motion for denial.
Ohigashi said that he feels DOE did not meet its burden of proving why the condition should be removed, including showing that the roundabout — suggested by the DOE last year — is a proper substitute for the grade-separated crossing.
He added that the DOE “made no attempt to even try and meet these conditions” set by the LUC.
“If we deny this it would be incumbent on the DOE to work on a solution with the County of Maui (to) collectively bring forth something that protects the public as well as satisfy the goal of opening up,” Ohigashi said.
Several commissioners said they felt uneasy and couldn’t trust the DOE if they granted the request to put off the grade-separated crossing until later. DOE suggested that more studies could be done to see if the crossing is warranted when the school opens up to more students.
Andrew Beerer, a longtime community advocate for the school and Kihei Community Association’s Education and Recreation Committee chairman, said following the meeting that he was “relieved that the LUC upheld the condition for a grade-separated pedestrian crossing.”
“We feel that there are solutions that could be achieved that would allow for a grade-separated crossing as well as a timely opening of the high school,” he said. “But that is going to be imperative on the DOE working with the community and the County of Maui to start seriously looking at viable solutions and putting them into place.”
When asked if that “timely opening” would be in 2022, as the DOE was aiming for, Beerer said he did not think the school would be ready by then anyway. He noted the various projected opening dates the DOE has given for the school over the years.
DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said in an email statement Wednesday afternoon that “construction on the first five campus buildings is underway, but may finish sooner than the grade-separated crosswalk, which is an LUC condition for the school opening. This means Kihei High will not meet its planned opening date in 2022. The Department will confer with the state Department of Transportation on next steps to keep this important project moving forward.”
The general issue of pulling back the condition of the grade-separated crossing had been pending before the LUC since September 2019, when members deferred to get more information and for the community to meet with state officials about the project.
In November 2020, the DOE asked that a roundabout with raised at-grade crosswalks and a special traffic control system be built along Piilani Highway in front of the school prior to its opening. The DOE had said in its filing to the LUC that it would like to build the roundabout before the school opens but would revisit the need for an underpass or overpass “at least four times, two of which must occur within three years of the schools opening.”
The DOE has pointed in the past to a traffic report and pedestrian study approved by the DOT in 2017, showing that the current conditions warranted a signalized intersection but not an overpass or underpass.
The LUC in that November meeting deferred action pending responses from the DOE to the commission’s questions.
Maui County has not backed the removal of the condition requiring the grade-separated crossing, citing the community’s concerns. In its filings with the LUC, the county said that over the years it has tried to ensure that the DOE was complying with LUC conditions, including the crossing. The county oversees some permitting, including building permits, for the school.
LUC Chairman Jonathan Likeke Scheuer was not present at the meeting and had voluntarily recused himself following the DOE’s emergency motion on Aug. 19 for recusal or disqualification of Scheuer.
The DOE pointed to an email in which Scheuer had correspondence with Kihei Community Association President Mike Moran regarding the matter pending before the LUC.
In its motion, the DOE said that while Moran is not a party in the proceeding, he has testified as a witness in the matter and was opposed to the DOE’s request regarding the grade-separated crossing.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.