Student letters help get a play court

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island file

    State Rep. Dee Morikawa

  • Courtesy of Melissa Speetjens

    Waimea Canyon Middle School’s play court is on its way.

WAIMEA — State legislators received over 400 letters from Waimea Canyon Middle School students that led to the construction of their new play court.

This covered play court will be used for court sports like basketball and volleyball. It will also be used for other school activities. School officials say they’re working on a process for community use during the weekends, too, though its primary use will be for the middle school.

“The trusses are up, and completion is scheduled for May or June 2020,” said Vice Principal Brian Godsill.

Inspired by Principal Melissa Speetjens, the students in 2014 wrote to state Senate President Ronald Kouchi (D-Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau) and House District 16 Rep. Dee Morikawa (D-South and west Kaua‘i, Ni‘ihau) and expressed their need for a new play court.

Although the students who started the process by writing the letters will not be able to use it, Morikawa wanted to acknowledge them. “We need to let them and the public know that they were very much a part of making this facility a reality for future students, and that their efforts are truly appreciated by everyone,” Morikawa said.

The original capital improvement project request was granted in 2015 at $1.5 million. However, it was discovered that an additional $1.39 million would be needed to complete the project.

In 2016, more funds were allocated to the school for a total of $2.89 million. In 2017, WCMS students wrote letters to the legislators again, asking for construction to begin.

Those students won’t be able to use the playcourt either, as they have moved on to high school, but still invested in bettering their school.

In Speetjens’s first year as principal, she knew her students needed a covered play court. It was important to her and her staff to have a facility to host their school events and have a shaded area for their physical-education activities.

According to Speetjens, the covered play court will be able to host their students and staff of approximately 600. The school is expecting to have its grand opening by this summer, before the start of the 2020-21 school year.

Speetjens wasted no time commnicating to her students the importance of reaching out to their community and their legislators. She taught them how to advocate for themselves and feel empowered to be part of the solution.

WCMS student Miley Cox said she is excited about the play court.

“The covered play court is a place for the community and students of WCMS to spend time on physical activity and enrichment,” Cox said. “The goal of WCMS is to shape the future, and we have truly done that through a way of development and collaboration.”

Now that WCMS has received state funds, the project is well on its way. Speetjens is working side-by-side with architect Justin Matsukawa from YFH Architects Inc. and Shioi Construction. The ground-breaking was held in May 2019.

“The covered playcourt brings a sense of energy and empowerment to the community to continue to develop. We thank the legislators, students of WCMS, the staff of WCMS and the community to come together and execute the idea of a covered playcourt,” said Cox.

Teacher Richard Palacio agrees with Cox. He said he believes that the play court is a true representation of WCMS’ mission statement: “To empower students to navigate the present and shape the future.”

“The students were empowered to write letters to legislators saying, ‘We need a covered playcourt!’ We continued writing letters for a couple of years and finally we have started the construction for the play court. We are finally shaping the future, for both the students and the community,” said Palacio.

Speetjens and Godsill said they are thrilled and grateful.

“I want to express my gratitude to everyone involved in this process. Our students and staff are looking forward to this exciting new addition to WCMS,” said Godsill.

“Thanks to our Westside community for supporting our students and this very important addition to WCMS,”said Speetjens.


Stephanie Shinno, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or

  1. LMat February 3, 2020 9:32 am Reply

    Maybe teach the middle school kids how to respect and malama public property first… The existing playground near the school has so much nasty and explicit vandalism from these self-entitled prepubescent kids it’s ridiculous.

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