(Source Mary Vorsino The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (MCT) — The Department of Education is preparing to develop a strategic plan for school facilities that officials say will make clearer the needs of aging campuses and spell out the state’s vision for what 21st-century schools should look like.
The state wants to complete the plan by the end of 2013.
“In order to plan ahead, we need to know what we have and what the conditions are in a more comprehensive way,” said Duane Kashiwai, public works administrator for the DOE Facilities Development Branch.
The plan will include a comprehensive inventory of Hawaii’s 256 public schools and their needed repairs.
Officials believe the plan will ultimately help to better allocate resources and address areas with the highest needs.
It will also be “aspirational,” Kashiwai said, delving into such philosophical issues as a school’s role in a community and society. (For example, how should schools be used after students leave in the afternoon?)
The department plans to reach out to a number of stakeholder groups for input on the master plan.
The DOE will also seek the help of a consultant to help guide the development of the plan, and hopes to have one chosen by October. An estimate on how much developing the master plan will cost is not yet available.
The strategic plan is the latest step in a years-long effort to upgrade Hawaii’s aging inventory of schools and meet the needs of modern learners.
Statewide, more than half of all schools are 50 years old or older. Some 16 percent were built before 1912. Just 3 percent are less than 9 years old.
Over the past decade, the department has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into its effort to address backlogged repairs at campuses. In 2001, the price tag for backlogged repairs was at $720 million. Today, it’s about $382 million.
More recently, the DOE has turned its attention to upgrading outdated infrastructure, including telecommunication lines and old electrical systems.
Also, last year, the DOE kicked off a decade-long, $100 million modernization project of Farrington High. The project is seen as a new way to tackle repairs of an aging campus all at once, rather than piecemeal, while also updating facilities to meet modern needs.
Board of Education members say with the strategic plan, the department will be able to better align facilities decisions with big academic goals, such as boosting student achievement.
Some onlookers also see the plan as an opportunity to study out-of-the-box ideas for financing new schools or modernizing old ones.
The inventory will give the department a better idea of what properties aren’t being used to their potentialand whether there is unused land on campuses that could be leased out to commercial developments, with profits going into new school facilities.
That model has been advocated by the Hawaii Institute for Public Affairs, a nonprofit research group, and is already being tried in several cities.
Alan Oshima, a member of HIPA’s board, said an inventory of the potential value of land underneath schools is vital to gaining a better understanding of how to upgrade campuses.
“You almost have to look at our land base under our public schools as a resource,” he said.
At a recent BOE meeting, Chairman Don Horner pointed to Jefferson Elementary School as an example of an “underutilized asset.” The school is on more than 15 acres in the heart of Waikiki.
“We know there’s an opportunity for economic development,” he said.
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