OPINION: West Hawaii Students Score Big
by Nate Gaddis
Check your cynicism at the door. Sometimes, everything comes together.
After years of operating out of make-shift offices and cramped classrooms, the West Hawaii branch of Hawaii Community College is about to be given a proper home.
Thanks in part to the efforts of Big Island legislators, over $7 million of funding has been secured to help fast track a much needed new facility for West Hawaii students.
Set to take effect in July, the cash injection will join a $9.68 million contribution made in January of 2012 from private land developer Pālamanui LLC, a joint venture between Charles Schwab and Hunt Companies, Inc.
In return for being granted zoning approval for a 725 acre West Hawaii subdivision, Pālamanui had previously agreed to partially fund the construction of the new 78 acre community college site, located just north of the old Kona airport.
Expected to start admitting students in 2014, the new campus will also have its water and electrical connections funded by Pālamanui, bringing the developer’s total contribution to almost $20 million.
This public-private partnership is a huge win for area residents, and it is badly needed.
Carved out of an old supermarket complex in Kealakekua, the current West Hawaii campus is a cramped, makeshift collection of classrooms and offices that serve upwards of 400 students. A shabby ambiance and slim class selection have for years served as embarrassing reminders of the lopsided distribution of services between the east and west sides of the Big Island.
College administrators have long been aware of the problem, and have been working since the 1990s to get a dedicated facility for West Hawaii Community College built.
By providing $7.5 million in bond approval, the state is helping to speed the construction of 30,000 square feet worth of classrooms and laboratories, including new kitchens for the college’s culinary arts program.
Intended to support 65 students, the new kitchens are being outfitted with the help of a fundraising initiative by the Kona Kohala Chefs Association, which has set a goal of $1 million to provide the equipment needed to get the facility ready for its first set of culinary arts majors.
Though long in the making, the Hawaii Community College Pālamanui Campus is an investment that will pay untold dividends back to the community. It represents the generosity and compassion of private citizens, the persistence of university staff, and creativity on the part of state and county officials. All involved deserve our gratitude and support.
Cynics need not apply.
If you would like to help the Kona Kohala Chefs Association in providing kitchen equipment to the new Pālamanui Campus, visit their page at http://www.konakohalachefs.org/fundraising.php