The middle school features an innovative design and mindset
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Oct 25, 2010
In January, 600 seventh- and eighth-graders will leave cramped quarters at Ilima Intermediate and walk into the state's newest public school -- Ewa Makai Middle School -- an 18.5-acre, $61 million campus that education officials say will serve as a template for future Hawaii schools, where the building itself becomes a tool for learning.
Green campusEwa Makai Middle School is the first Hawaii public school to have a federal LEED energy-efficiency rating. Officials estimate energy savings of $22,000 per year. Some features:
» Sensors turn lights off in unoccupied rooms.
» Extensive use of sunlight via skylights, "solar tubes" and reflecting panels.
» Low-flow plumbing fixtures and a "gray water" irrigation system use water from the community's nonpotable water source.
» Air-conditioning vents are placed at a lower "human level" to make cooling more efficient.
Source: state Department of Education
The school, undergoing finishing touches now, boasts schoolwide Wi-Fi, touch-screen whiteboards in every classroom, innovative spaces like a dance studio and robotics workshop, and energy-efficient features that make it the state's greenest public school.
Ronn Nozoe, acting deputy superintendent of schools, said Ewa Makai's design is a model for future campuses.
"Quality teachers with that environment can just be outstanding," Nozoe said. "The potential is just astounding."
Ewa Makai was designed with the help of community members, teachers and students. And it reflects a push to make schools environmentally friendly, high-tech, visually pleasing places where students can learn in small and large groups, inside and outside classrooms.
On Thursday, Board of Education members and DOE administrators toured the new campus, where common areas have high ceilings -- up to 38 feet in some places, where skylights and "solar tubes" bring in natural light, air-conditioning vents are at "human level" to decrease energy usage and classrooms are equipped with retractable walls (between classrooms and in the halls) so classes can work together if needed.
Board of Education member Caroline Wong, principal of Moanalua Middle School from 1991 until last year, said the school is both aesthetically pleasing and learning-friendly, offering places for students to work on projects while also providing state-of-the-art classrooms and lots of common areas to gather.
The school has a large dining hall with a stage for performances, an outdoor courtyard with an amphitheater and several open areas with benches.
"It's just really exciting to see this," Wong said. "Everything we envisioned in a school that addresses the needs of middle-schoolers, they built it here."
Construction on Ewa Makai, first proposed at least a decade ago, began in July 2008.
The school is one of at least 11 new campuses the Department of Education says it will need to handle West Oahu's growing population.
The other campuses are not yet funded; the DOE plans to seek about $862 million over the next five years to build the new schools.
The DOE is also seeking money for new schools on Maui and the Big Island.
When it welcomes students Jan. 4, Ewa Makai will relieve serious overcrowding at Ilima Intermediate, where 1,400 seventh- and eighth-graders attend classes.
Right now, Ilima (built in 1967) is the only junior high school serving the Ewa area.
At the end of the 2008-09 school year, the campus -- with 74 classrooms -- was 14 classrooms short of properly accommodating its student population.
Teachers and students at Ilima have been informed if they are heading to Ewa Makai in January. In fact, Ewa Makai-bound students have been kept together, taught by teachers who will move with them to the new school.
The district line for Ewa Makai is roughly this: Residents living west of Fort Weaver Road -- where more growth is expected -- will send their students to the new school, while those living east of Fort Weaver will continue to send their children to Ilima.
Of the seven elementary schools in Ewa, three are designated as feeder schools to the new Ewa Makai campus: Keoneula Elementary, Ewa Elementary and Ewa Beach Elementary.
Though Ewa Makai will start with 600 students, its capacity is 750.
The DOE will also ask the 2011 Legislature session for $16 million more in construction funds for a third wing on the campus for sixth-graders.
Once that is completed, the school will hold up to 1,050 students.
With opening day three months away, Ewa Makai administrators are scrambling to buy everything from textbooks to tubas with a $2 million start-up budget.
Principal Ed Oshiro said purchases will be made with a 21st-century school in mind.
That means the school will offer students a vast library of e-books and online components for textbooks, in addition to hardcover books. Curricula will have interactive elements so teachers can use the touch-screen whiteboards in their classrooms.
Oshiro also wants to incorporate iPads into classes for interactive learning and digital signage in hallways.
"We expect to be the No. 1 school in the state in terms of technology," Oshiro said.
He added that despite lots of planning, the first year at Ewa Makai will be one of transition -- and some things will have to wait until more money is available.
For example, the school has a state-of-the-art wood shop, but it cannot yet afford a wood shop teacher. The school also wants to add home economics and choral teachers in future years.
Ewa Makai will get about $2.9 million a year in operating funds under the weighted student formula, which goes primarily to personnel.
Oshiro said he has budgeted for four custodians out of that but is also seeking a host of community partnerships with church groups, clubs and businesses to adopt parts of the school and keep them up.
The campus, he said, "is just massive."
Oshiro was planning to retire when he was given the chance to open the new school. Now, he said, he is looking to stay at least five more years.
"This is a dream come true," he said.
In addition to featuring high-tech equipment, Ewa Makai will be the first public school in the islands with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, thanks to a host of environmentally friendly features -- from occupancy sensors that turn the lights off in rooms when no one is in them to low-flow plumbing fixtures and a storm-water retention system.
Oshiro said he wants the campus to be the state's "lead green school" and plans to bring sustainability into every aspect of operations: Small classroom refrigerators will not be allowed, shared printers will save on toner and ink, and the school will have containers for recyclables located around the campus.