By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
They’re not your typical classrooms.
Without its own facilities, the Volcano School of Arts & Sciences has had to hold the bulk of its classes in tents and former motel rooms since it opened in 2001.
The charter school, which boasts that its 172 students meet or exceed state test score averages, has made due with the situation.
But the K-8 school feels it can do better and is hoping to check out of the former Menehune Lodge, 99-128 Old Volcano Road, in five years.
“We do very well with what we got,” said Robert Smith, Friends of Volcano School of Arts & Sciences chairman.
“You can only fit so much in there.”
During its last session, the state Legislature allocated $618,000 for the Friends, the school’s nonprofit fundraising group, to design a new building.
The funding is subject to approval from Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
“We got our fingers crossed,” Smith said.
The funds were initially approved during the 2011 session, but they could not be distributed at the time since the Legislature didn’t select the Friends as its recipient, said state Sen. Gil Kahele, D-Ka‘u, Puna, Hilo.
State law doesn’t allow funds for capital improvements to be granted directly to charter schools for capital improvements.
“That held it up,” he said. “We tried to find different ways. We had to be patient.”
The school wants to build new classrooms at its Keakealani campus, located less than a mile from its main location at the former motel.
Last fall, it moved its sixth- through eighth-grade classes into a historic four-room school house at that location. Next year, the fifth-grade class will also study there.
Smith said the school wants to complete the design in about two years and open the new classrooms within five years.
The historic schoolhouse doesn’t meet all of the school’s needs, he said, but it will remain in use once the new classrooms are built.
The schoolhouse was built in 1915 on land donated by the Lee family to provide a school for the children of Volcano, Smith said.
Its continued use helps keep that tradition going, he said.
“It’s perfectly functional,” Smith said, adding, “It prevents us from having to build additional infrastructure.”
Mary Brewer, Volcano Community Association vice president, said the group is “very excited” about the school’s plans for the site.
“It’s one of the best schools on the island,” she said. “There are people that move here specifically so their child can go to this school.”
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.