Governor releases $500,000 in capital improvement project funds for Waimea schools
September 13, 2023, 1:00 AM HST
* Updated September 15, 9:11 AM
Michelle Taira Medeiros stopped dropping her second-grader off at Waimea Elementary School because multiple traffic issues in the area were causing delays.
Without adequate parking at the school, she parks at the U.S. Post office and takes a 7-minute walk through grass and dirt to get to her son’s classroom. There are no covered walkways to the South Kohala school, and they are often walking in windy and rainy conditions.
“I don’t think that campus was originally designed for the weather we have in Waimea,” Medeiros said. “It’s important for the students and teachers to feel comfortable in their learning space.”
With $500,000 in capital improvement project funding released for the Waimea Elementary School Campus Master Plan in August, Medeiros sees more walkways, parking and overall accessibility as a need.
The master plan will be the first step in outlining a strategy to make full use of the campus, which encompasses Waimea Elementary and Middles Schools. The Thelma Parker Community School Library is also located on campus, however, there are discussions about relocating it.
The release of the funding comes after years of conversations with lawmakers and the Waimea community.
During the past year, the campus has grown, with land being purchased by the post office and Parker Ranch to help build what Rep. David Tarnas refers to as “the heartbeat of Waimea.”
Tarnas, who represents Hawī, Hala‘ula, Waimea, Makahalau, Waiki‘i, Waikoloa, Kawaihae, and Māhukona, helped to secure the funding that he said will initiate the first step in addressing the issues the families and school faculty are experiencing, and what they envision for the future of the schools and the town.
The State Department of Education will lead the plan, first collecting input from the community regarding how to develop the new campus, surrounding roads, a library, gymnasium and possibly teacher housing. The effort is expected to take a year.
Medeiros said she wants to see what the process will be, who will be involved and when the community will participate in the discussion. She thinks there are people with great ideas and looks forward to hearing them.
“My hope is that my kids aren’t parents before this change happens,” she said.
Tammie Picklesimer, principal at Waimea Elementary, said the funding reflects the commitment to providing the best possible educational environment for their students, families, and community.
She said the buildings are in need of repair, from a leaky roof, mold, to refrigerators that drip water. The principal said now is a good time to create a safer environment for Waimea’s children.
Right now the school has 473 students in preschool through fifth grade.
Janice English, principal at Waimea Middle School, is grateful to the legislators and Gov. Josh Green for supporting the project, especially as the community is growing.
“We want the middle school and elementary school to be a place of choice and a place of infinite possibilities,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity for the community to create a collaborative committee to assess the needs of the community, especially as we expand.”
English envisions nursing services on the future community campus, along with other social services that the community could use. The STEAM building, (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), could also be used for community purposes under the proposed plan, she said.
English would also like to see in the plan an on-campus housing for teachers, which she estimates may cost $167,000 to $200,000 for tiny homes.
English hopes to have more mentorship opportunities for the children under the new master plan so students can learn from people in their community about workforce opportunities.
Right now the middle school has around 210 students.
Elle Phillips, who has a seventh-grade son who is 13, said this is her son’s second year at the school and that she’s “blown away by the school” and the education he’s receiving and is thrilled plans are in the works to support it.
“I’m really, really happy we are having these tax dollars come back to our community and our kids and come back with a plan to improve our elementary and middle school campuses here,” she said.
While she’s also excited to improve the safety of the area, Phillips would like to see the plan include options for athletics, art, and theater programs, as well as an expanded garden, and mechanics class.
Patti Cook, president of the Waimea Community Association, said South Kohala residents wanted funding for the school master plan because “the town has grown so much around us.”
She echoed Medeiros’ concerns over the need for walkways and creating safer roads for parents driving their kids to the school.
“It’s really about public safety. The campus as it is, is very open and exposed. One of the things we’ll be talking about is safety of students and faculty staff,” Cook said. “But it’s also looking at what is the school going to look like in 5 to 10 years?”
Currently, there is the Waimea Roadway Improvements Project near the school which includes a roundabout at Kawaihae and Lindsey Roads intersection. Improvements also include bicycle and pedestrian pathways along both sides of Kawaihae Road and intersection improvements at Māmalahoa Highway and Lindsey Road.
The project plans aim to have safer access, including bike lanes and walking lanes to the school grounds.
Going forward, Tarnas said he intends to secure more funding for the construction and development of the space to see the dream come to fruition.
“These are vibrant community schools, lots of kids go there,” he said. “You want to create a real healthy, well-rounded community, where kids can get there by walking, by car, by bicycling,” Tarnas said.
The funds for the master plan were appropriated by the Hawai‘i State Legislature in 2022 as part of the Supplemental Appropriations Act.