LIHUE — Hanalei Elementary School is growing.
During a Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, commissioners unanimously voted to approve a planning director’s report detailing the construction of two classroom portables on the school campus.
The project addresses a growing community, said Bill Arakaki, Kauai Complex Area Superintendent.
“It promotes learning for teachers and students,” he said Tuesday. “It was initiated in response to the enrollment and additional space needed for Hanalei School.”
Enrollment was at 296 in the beginning of the 2015 school year. With the new portables, the school will be able to serve about 400 students. As well, the portables will add office space for community groups.
Because of current space constraints, three classes are being taught in the library.
“It occupies a major portion of the library, where students read their books and do their projects,” Arakaki said. “The two portables will alleviate that space and use the library as it should be.”
The construction, a project which began in 2012, requires a area use permit and a class IV zoning permit. They will be located at the eastern section of the central open grass courtyard, near the administration building. Because the portables are located near the administration and health buildings, it provides access in case of an emergency, Arakaki added.
But during a meeting with community members last year, concerns were raised about the location, Arakaki said.
At that meeting, there was discussion about moving the portables to the right side of the administration building. The group originally wanted the portables to be placed behind the building, but there was a slight incline and water issues, he said.
Jamie Debonet, who has two children at Hanalei Elementary School, said community members support the portables, not the location, he said.
“The portables are absolutely needed, but the location impacts the lawn area because it cuts off a whole section of the existing school,” he said.
They also would also create a dark passageway, which raises safety concerns, Debonet added.
“What takes place in that area after hours on weekends — people could go in and sit there, and not be noticed at all,” he said.
Debonet also questioned how the portables will impact future development.
“If you place the portables (where you want them), you’re maximizing the entire area,” he said. “But if there’s a need for future development, placing it in the back will open up the area for future use.”
But Arakaki supports using the proposed location because he is concerned about getting the extra funds to create another design plan and extra costs.
“I’m not sure if funding will be covered,” he said.
Because he wanted to address public concerns, Ka’aina Hull, deputy planning director for Kauai County, suggested the Planning Commission defer the item until the May 24 meeting.
“We ask for a short deferment so we can meet with applicant to discuss alternatives and to perhaps come to a consensus on where the site will be,” he said.
Louis Abrams, vice-chair of the Planning Commission, said he’d be willing to defer the matter until the next meeting.
“I’m willing to wait two weeks and will be prepared to vote then,” he said.
But the deferment isn’t focusing on the real issue, said Commissioner Kimo Keawe.
“Aren’t we talking about the quality of the education for those keiki? And having them in cramped situations and those kinds issues, to me, doesn’t seem like a quality environment,” he said. “We’re getting pretty concerned with where the buildings will be, as opposed to getting them up so kids can have a good environment to learn.”
A construction date has not been set.