By NANCY COOK LAUER
South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford has big plans for the site of a new community college at Palamanui.
University-quality football, baseball and tennis facilities, and an Olympic-quality aquatic complex, along with an outdoor amphitheater and indoor theater are the ambitious projects Ford is promoting through amendments to the county’s capital improvement budget. The amendments, among a baker’s dozen Ford is sponsoring, will be heard Thursday when the County Council meets in Hilo for the final reading of its 2012-13 capital improvement and operating budgets.
The public has one last opportunity to weigh in on the $365.1 million operating budget, Bill 197, and $172.6 million CIP budget, Bill 198, by signing up to testify at 9 a.m. Thursday. The council will take testimony at the county building in Hilo, and via videoconference from the West Hawaii Civic Center and the council offices in Waimea and Pahoa.
Ford proposes a total of $24 million this year and anticipates $220 million next year for the six Palamanui projects. The projects would be partnerships among numerous entities. The state of Hawaii would provide the land with private and public companies building the facilities. The Hawaii County Department of Parks and Recreation would lease, rent and maintain them. A university or the county would take over the facilities at the end of the facilities’ leases.
The ultimate goal is to provide amenities for the West Hawaii community while raising money to get a branch of the University of Hawaii or other university located in West Hawaii, Ford said in her amendments. She said the participating entities would seek grants from public and private sources.
“West Hawaii currently has inadequate college infrastructure and lacks a four-year university. The West Hawaii community has been financially devastated, educationally deprived of a four-year university and has attempted to get UH to build a campus,” Ford said in written justifications to her amendments. “This public-private partnership will begin the campus, provide long-term employment, improve the educational and cultural opportunities for local and nonresident students and …. provide long-term jobs in construction, maintenance and post-secondary education.”
The 2012 supplemental state budget includes $7.5 million in bonds to be combined with developer Palamanui LLC’s January payment of $9.68 million to complete phases 1 and 1B of the West Hawaii Community College at Palamanui. The community college is slated to open in the fall of 2014. But a full-scale university is much farther in the future.
Palamanui, a development north of Kona International Airport, agreed to build the West Hawaii campus during its land use reclassification process in front of the state Land Use Commission in 2005. Financier Charles Schwab is a key principal in the development.
“The West Hawaii community and the community college have been begging for a four-year university for almost 20 years,” Ford added. “We’ve got to do something to start building our university in West Hawaii.”
Parks and Recreation Director Bob Fitzgerald said Tuesday he’s been in discussions with Ford and others about locating a professional baseball stadium in West Hawaii that could be used by Korean and Japanese baseball leagues part of the year, and the remainder of the year by the community. He said the project could be done in conjunction with Kohala resorts, to ensure officials and teams had places to stay, and boost the tourism and hotel economy.
“It’s a good location. It’s close to the airport and close to the Kohala hotels,” Fitzgerald said. “I support the concept. But we still have to get everybody on board. To get all these groups together will be tough.”
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.