LIHUE — The Planning Commission sided with North Shore residents Tuesday, unanimously voting to change the proposed location of two classroom portables at Hanalei Elementary School.
The portables, which were proposed by the Hawaii Department of Education to be built near the administration building on the eastern section of the center courtyard, will now be placed on the adjacent western wing of the administration building.
The $1.25 million project began in 2012 in response to school growth.
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.
The new placement for the portables was decided after Hanalei Elementary parents asked that the Planning Commission reconsider the HIDOE proposed location.
On Tuesday, several parents and Hanalei residents spoke in favor of moving the portables.
The courtyard is used for May Day celebrations, and some wondered where it would take place if the portables were built there.
Another concern is that the portables will take away space from the school garden, said Jamie DeBonet, a Hanalei school parent.
Safety was a concern because people could loiter in the alleyways near the portables and not be noticed, DeBonet said.
Susan Wilson, a North Shore resident, who has been working to preserve the school since 1984, said the history of the building needs to be respected.
“When you go to the school, you realize you’re not only looking at history, you’re looking at the rural essence of the community,” she said.
But Charlie Schuster, construction consultant for HIDOE, said putting the portables in the southwest location would ruin the aesthetic of school.
“Placing the structures on the southwest side will make them more visible from the roadway, which would deter from the aesthetics of the school,” he said.
Parents and community members also said there was little effort to educate the public and were told the decision was final.
Carl Imparato, who lives across the street from Hanalei school, believed it was important that the Planning Commission knew the community had little say in the project.
“There has been no real public input process related to the siting of the classrooms,” he said.
Taking the position that any changes would threaten the project is not credible, Imparato said.
“I don’t believe you should reward the applicant by rushing through project approval when they manipulated the process in order to avoid hearing community concerns,” Imparato said.
Mike Dahilig, planning director, said the department approved of the motion to reconsider the portables’ location.
“I’m disturbed that the process has taken a route where the public and commission hasn’t been able to weigh in,” Dahilig said. “The department is cognizant of the urgent need to solve overcrowding, but we’re not pleased with the situation to approve rezoning plans that have already been drawn.”
Not addressing community concerns is inappropriate, added Sean Mahoney, chair of the planning commission.
“Part of the process is input from the community, and why it was reopened was because of input from the community,” he said. “Addressing aesthetic concerns is not out of line. In fact, it’s appropriate.”
HIDOE expects the portables to be built in time for the next school year.
Jenna Carpenter, education reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.