By CHELSEA JENSEN
Hawaii Community College at Palamanui reached another long-awaited milestone Tuesday as officials broke ground for the long-promised institution of higher education in North Kona.
Having recently graduated students from 10 University of Hawaii and community college campuses around the state, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood considered groundbreaking for the Palamanui campus Tuesday her 11th commencement ceremony of the season. The Hawaii Community College at Palamanui will be the 11th campus in the University of Hawaii System.
“We should see this as a commencement, we are graduating from planning to doing,” the outgoing UH president told dozens of attendees of the college’s official groundbreaking. “And, that’s very important.”
University officials anticipate that students currently attending the University of Hawaii Center at West Hawaii in Kealakekua will begin classes at the new North Kona facility in spring 2015, said John Morton, vice president for community colleges.
Construction, which is expected to get under way soon at the location located off Queen Kaahumanu Highway, just past mile marker 91, is expected to take 18 months and should wrap up in late 2014. If things are delayed, however, Morton said students will be in classrooms for the fall semester.
“This is a groundbreaking many of this community believed should have happened 20 years ago and many in the community thought would never happen,” he said. “But, today is real.”
Tuesday’s groundbreaking was for phase 1A and 1B of the community college, which includes the first 24,000 square feet of learning space. That will include classrooms, laboratories and support spaces for 700 students in the culinary arts, nursing and health programs, and student services administration.
Funding is in place for the $22.7 million contract awarded to F&H Construction of Maui and California. The funding is from various sources, including about $17 million between state money and contributions from Palamanui LLC and $6.5 million in leftover revenue bonds that the university’s Board of Regents reallocated in February.
The University of Hawaii Board of Regents approved “repurposing” money left over from an Oahu project to pay higher-than-expected construction costs at Palamanui.
“This, I hope, is proof that a public-private partnership can work,” said Steve Colon, president Hawaii Division, Hunt Companies, a managing member of Palamanui LLC.
He later reminded attendees that the first phase is just the beginning and to “not let this university be two buildings, let’s let this be the start of something bigger.”
Right now, students attending University of Hawaii Center at West Hawaii do so in classrooms scattered across a retail center in Kealakekua. Roughly 450 students currently attend school at that campus, which has 12,500 square feet of classroom and office space.
Planned second and third phases of the 78-acre Palamanui campus would bring the community college’s capacity to 1,400 students. The first phase brings the capacity to 700 pupils.
“It’s not just a degree of alphabets after a name — it’s an opportunity to open the doors to dreams and a limitless future,” said Mayor Billy Kenoi. “Community college opens the door for our kamalii, our children, our haumana, our students, to dream. All of our children deserve that access to higher education.”
Email Chelsea Jensen at email@example.com.