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Phyllis Kunimura lost new school to storm

KAPAA — Driving from her home in Poipu to Kapaa shortly after Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in September 1992, Phyllis Kunimura wasn’t sure if her school survived.

“I thought, ‘my God, I’m not going to have a school left. I’m not going to have anything,’” she said.

Kauai Independent Day Care Services, also known as KIDS School, has been a part of the Kapaa community since the early ’90s after Kunimura left her teaching job at Koloa Elementary School in 1989 to pursue her passion in early childhood development and education.

A year later, KIDS School was up and running. Kunimura’s preschool focused on cognitive development to ensure that each child was ready to learn once they went to grade school. The school became so popular that Kunimura needed a new space to accommodate her students.

“Our waitlist for our school was getting longer and longer, and we were told about an old Japanese church that was available, so we got the lease and everything,” she said. “We were right on the beach, a great spot.”

The new building was under construction with the framing installed while Kunimura awaited permits.

“We were forming the whole building. We were re-roofing it and opening up the building, we received grants for materials, we had lumber stockpiled and we had the frame built up, then along came the hurricane.”

It all happened in the blink of an eye, she said.

“Suddenly, everything was gone. I was driving to Kapaa (after Hurricane Iniki) and saw how everything was destroyed on my way there,” she said.

But amazingly enough, the old school three doors down from the new construction site was almost untouched.

“I got to Kapaa, they let us through, and there was our old building. There was some roofing gone from it, a section where the toys were were gone, but that was it,” she said. “But then I went up the street, three doors down to the new one and everything was gone into the ocean.”

Kunimura and her staff weren’t down for long, however.

“Things have a way of really — if it’s meant to be — working out,” she said. “Because we were on state-leased land, we were required to have insurance so we had insurance to cover the building. And the insurance company was wonderful. We had money to be able to go out to hire a contractor.”

Kunimura found an independent contractor in Kapaa who had children attend KIDS School. She didn’t remember his name, however.

“He said ‘I never built a school before. But yeah, I’ll build it,’” she said. “He had his men work all day long and then after work, they came to work on KIDS School. I remember them working with their high intensity lights working until two o’clock in the morning to get things done.”

The community rallied together, said Kunimura. Plumbers, electricians, you name it, people came to help the school out.

“The hurricane hit Sept. 11, we moved into our new school Jan. 18. In four months, we were able to build it, have it ready, and put all of our students into one big building,” Kunimura said. “We didn’t have electricity for a month or two, but I remember everyone bringing coolers of water and those type of things.”

When asked how the school came together so quickly, Kunimura said families simply wanted things to get back to the way they were as quickly as possible.

“It was an extremely stressful time for parents, but the best thing for them was to get their kids into school and get back to normal,” she said. “We called it the new normalcy.”

KIDS School is is still in its same location.

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