Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor
After nearly three decades of planning and waiting, West Hawaii residents celebrated at a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for Hawaii Community College – Palamanui.
West Hawaii is the only remaining major geographic region and population center in the state without a permanent facility for higher education – an inequality not lost on many in Kona.
Hawaii Community College and the University of Hawaii currently conducts classes in leased facilities in an old Kealakekua shopping center.
“Higher education has the power to transform students’ lives, and this new campus will ensure we are delivering quality, affordable college programs to our entire Hawaii Island community,” Hawaii Community College Chancellor Noreen Yamane said.
“This is a proud day and a long awaited dream come true,” said University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood. “The new Hawaii Community College – Palamanui will be a state-of-the-art, energy-independent campus that will serve as a model for other state projects.”
John Morton, vice president for UH community colleges, said the campus has been in the planning stages for nearly a decade and the project likely would have foundered without the vision, drive and ambition of a host of dedicated residents.
“With the support of many people, we are finally able to break ground on the first phase of the new campus for Hawaii Community College – Palamanui,” he said. “We are committed to increasing the opportunity for higher education in West Hawaii, not just with programs from Hawaii Community College but also by continuing to serve as a University Center to deliver programs from UH Hilo, UH West Oahu, and UH Manoa as well.”
Palamanui LLC is a partnership between Charles R. Schwab and Hunt Companies that is building a mixed-use community on 725 acres about 1 mile north of Kona International Airport.
Palamanui LLC donated $9.68 million for construction and also contributed $10 million in infrastructure improvements for water, power and sewer.
Hunt Companies Hawaii Division President Steve Colon, representing Palamanui LLC, said, “Building the Hawaii Community College – Palamanui campus is a commitment we share with the community. Charles R. Schwab and the Hunt Companies are honored to have played a part in helping to make this new campus a reality. Community building begins with investing in our youth, and the new Hawaii CC – Palamanui campus will become the great equalizer for many families in their quest for access to higher education in West Hawaii. Today’s ceremonies launch the community’s vision of what’s possible for our keiki.”
Also among the speakers Tuesday was Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who said, “And we pledge, all that we have, all that we are, to Hawaii and its future. Palamanui is the future of Hawaii.”
Mayor Billy Kenoi echoed the governor when he said, “The community colleges we all know opens the doors for our kamalii, our children, our haumana, our students, to dream.”
A $25.5 million bid from F&H Construction has been accepted for construction of Phase 1A and Phase 1B of the 8-acre Palamanui campus. Currently, Hawaii Community College is expected to move into the new facilities in 2015 and immediately serve approximately 700 students.
The first phase of construction will result in 24,000 square feet of learning space, which includes classrooms, science laboratories and learning kitchens. It also will include a learning commons area that consists of a library, learning center and testing center.
The project also plans to have a LEED Platinum designation, employing the most advanced technology to conserve resources. The campus will feature a large photovoltaic system.
All programs currently offered by Hawaii Community College and UH in Kealakekua will be offered at the new campus, including culinary arts, nursing, liberal arts and Hawaiian studies.
New programs will be offered at Hawaii Community College – Palamanui based on community needs, space availability, funding and curriculum development.