A public charter school in Kaneohe will have to vacate its building on the grounds of the Hawaii State Hospital by tonight, just two days before the start of classes, after a judge denied yesterday a court injunction to stop the eviction.
As it searches for a new location, Hakipuu Learning Center will kick off the new school year in as many as four scattered sites. The school stresses project-based learning with a Hawaiian focus and has about 70 students in fourth through 12th grade.
Yesterday afternoon more than 50 students, parents and teachers crammed into a courtroom and overflowed into the hallway, hoping to hear the eviction would be staved off.
Instead, some left the courthouse crying.
"Something good and it’s taken away," said Hakipuu teacher and parent Tammy Hoe Smith, tears rolling down her cheeks.
Despite the bad news, the school says it will not close — or even postpone the start of classes.
Charlene Hoe, school administrator, said the charter is working hard to make sure students continue lessons uninterrupted. But she added that the move means class time will be "severely disrupted."
The Health Department notified the school in March that it would have to move from the hospital grounds by June 30 to make way for a planned long-term care facility. In April the school was given a one-month extension.
The school argued that the Health Department did not go through the proper steps to evict the school, and filed a lawsuit Thursday in hopes of postponing a move.
Yesterday, Circuit Court Judge Rom Trader declined to issue an injunction, saying that though the school may have standing in its concerns about how the situation was handled, Hakipuu administrators should have known the eviction was coming.
"This train has been coming down the track for some time," Trader told the courtroom.
He added, "This epitomizes a situation where there is not a win-win situation. Please understand that I do not make this decision lightly."
The Department of Health said it needs to vacate the property before a contractor will agree to proceed with a lease for the long-term care facility.
"We feel that we will lose the opportunity to build a much-needed long-term care facility" if the school remains, said Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Health Department, in testimony yesterday.
She added, "We believe we have provided ample notice" to Hakipuu. "I think we have been very fair."
Avalon Health Care Management of Salt Lake City plans to build and operate a 150-bed skilled nursing facility on the site that will, in part, serve elderly patients discharged from the Hawaii State Hospital.
Fukino said the new facility is of critical importance, given overcrowding at the hospital and a critical need for long-term care for the severely mentally ill.
Four cottages in front of Windward Community College were offered to the school as an alternate site. The school is trying to shift to the cottages, but Hakipuu officials said they need extensive work and that one needs to be torn down and replaced.
Hoe said in testimony that work to renovate the cottages would take 12 to 18 months. Putting in temporary structures on the site would take about the same amount of time because of permitting requirements, Hoe said.
The school is currently in the Bishop Building at the State Hospital, for which it pays no rent.
But the school does cover utilities, takes care of maintenance and has invested more than $300,000 and lots of volunteer hours to improve the building.
Hakipuu says those upgrades have not been appreciated, and it questions why the Health Department could not have pushed off the eviction, since a construction start date for the health care facility is not yet scheduled and is months away.
The school was granted a charter in 2001 and opened with 39 students in grades 7 and 8.
The Charter School Review Panel has been notified of Hakipuu’s situation and is monitoring it.
Hoe said there are no immediate concerns that the school’s funding will be withheld.
"We are in communication with them as to our Plan B options," Hoe said. "The expectation is that we will find solutions."
John Keoni Aylett, who is on the school’s board, said he was "disappointed" with the judge’s ruling. But, he added, the school intends to pursue its lawsuit against the Health Department over the eviction.
"This was just a first step," he said.