Work is to begin next summer on the first building for the planned West Hawaii Community College center, but it’s not a state or university project.
The 20,000-square-foot building as well as sewer lines, water lines and connector road will be built by developers of the Palamanui subdivision.
The Palamanui development, on 500 acres near Kona International Airport, includes roughly 1,000 housing units, a 120-room hotel and a commercial center. The developers offered to build the campus’ first building and the county included it in the zoning and permitting requirements.
Meanwhile, 400 to 500 students will continue working toward their community college degrees at a converted supermarket in Kainaliu.
They make up roughly one-fifth of the total 2,551 enrollment at Hawaii Community College. The main campus is in Hilo, which also is slated for a completely new location.
Nearly $7 million in design and planning funds have been allotted for the two campuses, although Gov. Linda Lingle has refused for a year to release the money.
She has said she wants to make sure West Hawaii residents are satisfied with the plans offered up by the university’s Board of Regents. Lingle also has urged residents to make sure their vision of higher education matches what the regents are planning.
“We are hopefully coming to the point where the money can be released, but we want to make sure the community is comfortable with it,” said Andy Smith, Lingle’s West Hawaii liaison.
In February, regents met with several hundred residents in Kona. The plans outlined a deficit for the new Hilo campus, which is a full community college, that nearly matched the amount of money $135 million projected from leasing out land in West Hawaii to commercial development.
For the most part, people did not see that as a problem if West Hawaii eventually would get a four-year university.
A university in West Hawaii is not part of any long-term vision, even though residents have been clamoring for more higher education choices for more than two decades.
Last month, state Budget and Finance Director Georgina Kawamura said she is not sure West Hawaii residents are aware the plan only calls for an education center, or secondary campus of the Hawaii Community College, which will get a new 100-acre campus in Hilo.
“Many are under the false impression that there will be a four-year university campus or at least a two-year community college,” she said. “With only 25 acres planned for a West Hawaii Education Center, the residents of the Big Island have been led to believe they are getting something they are not.”
At a town hall meeting last week, UH Vice President of Community College John Morton said there are no plans “at this time” for commercial development on the remaining 475 acres, which is owned by the state.
He said the university is pursuing other private donations to fund a second building. Two buildings would start a community college center, he said.
“We need a new campus and we need it on that site,” Morton said. “Once started, it can by driven by demand. It will be a place to get started.”
When pushed on whether West Hawaii would ever get a full-fledged community college, Morton said, “This community is large enough to support it. My recommendation is that you grow into it.”
“It’s growing into a 100-year future, not leapfrogging into it,” he said.
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