Charter school seeks building

LIHUE — The only way for Alakai O Kauai Public Charter School to open next fall is for the school to move into an already existing structure.

When the school was approved by the Hawaii State Charter School Commission in August, green space for its students to be in nature, explore and grow a garden was a must, said Kani “DrB” Blackwell, acting chair.

So the governing board, made up of eight people, sought ag land, preferably in the Kapaa area. But free or reduced-priced land is proving hard to find, so in order to open in time for the next school year, the plan is seeking a building to move into, at least temporarily.

Finding the right location was one of the main topics during a Monday board meeting for Alakai O Kauai Public Charter School. About 10 people, including Blackwell, Indy Reever, Rob Sherrill, Minna Freeman-Prichard, Sheryl Busch and Sandi Combs, attended the meeting, at the Lihue Neighborhood Center.

“Location is so crucial. It’s not that we don’t have a Plan B,” Blackwell said. “If we need to reconsider, after we look at our location and get our enrollment started and need to reorganize, we can do that.”

During the meeting, Felicia Cowden, advisory board member, said if officials want to open next year, they should consider starting small with a limited number of students and working to open as a full school in 2018.

“Don’t lose our big picture,” she said.

But the problem is that the plans could deviate from what the charter commission approved, she said.

“If we want to scratch everything, you have a completely different application which we weren’t approved for,” Blackwell said. “The application says we’re going to try to open with 165 kids and serve all of Kauai. It’s completely different from toning it down and starting with what we can. That’s not what the charter commission approved us for.”

Alakai O Kauai Public Charter School promotes creative problem solving and collaboration, Blackwell added.

The school will offer grades kindergarten through fourth grade. Officials hope to grow to 360 students in 10 years.

Plans for the school started in 2014. It was denied twice by Charter School Commission,

School officials were in negotiations with Knudsen Trust for Mount Kahili Park in Koloa, but that land is no longer an option. Officials were hoping to open in Kapaa, where the biggest need is, but have extended their search.

New options include subleasing part of the old Immaculate Conception School building in Lihue Makanlani, an organization on several acres in Kilauea that hosts youth groups and camps, and privatizing land in Wailua Homesteads.

Another obstacle is money. The school needs $200,000 to open. But, as of Tuesday, $29,475 had been raised via GoFundMe. A holiday benefit dinner hosted on Dec. 11 raised about $1,800.

But if the school doesn’t get the funds soon, they will have to delay opening for another year. If the school doesn’t open by 2019, the school loses its charter approval.

The governing board has until Jan. 15 to decide if the school is ready to open in 2017. They hope it will open in time, especially because parents have been waiting for it for several years, Blackwell said.

“I’m very excited about what is happening,” Sherrill said. “The learning philosophy is very much geared to engaging the kid’s interest and is something they’re excited to be a part of. That to me is the draw.”

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