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Alternate site eyed for Puuanahulu education center

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KAILUA-KONA >> A U.S. Forest Service plan to convert an old schoolhouse in Puuanahulu into a science and education center is off the table.

Instead, the federal agency plans to pursue build-out of the facility at an old landing strip site located within the 38,800-acre experimental Puu Waawaa dryland forest.

The switch follows a public meeting earlier this month with residents of Puuanahulu, many of whom supported the project but didn’t want it located in the center of the community.

The center will feature restoration projects, outdoor activities and workshops on the dryland forest, mostly for junior high and high school students.

The Forest Service will now examine how to design a classroom to hold 10 to 20 students and sleeping quarters for students, teachers and research scientists with a maximum of about 15 beds, said Ric Lopez, director of the Institute of Pacific Island Forestry, based in Hilo.

The Forest Service has a lease agreement in principle with the state for use of the landing strip site, but a final lease would have to be approved by the Board of Land and Natural Resources, Lopez said.

It is not yet clear how the land strip’s existing 5,000-square-foot steel hangar will fit into the concept.

Design work, conceptualization and dialogue with the community remain ahead, said Lopez. An environmental assessment of the site must also be conducted.

“I think that two to five years from now everyone can be pleased with the outcome and that we went through the right processes,” Lopez said.

The switch comes two weeks after a meeting in which some 40 Puuanahulu residents raised concerns about the potential for traffic hazards, fire danger and noise and light pollution at the old school site.

Many residents also felt the site was so deteriorated that it could not be salvaged.

“Everyone I know is satisfied with the decision,” said resident Jana Levin, a key organizer of opposition to the original proposal.

“I’m a little surprised it came so quickly. Maybe he listened to everyone’s concerns and realized they’re legitimate.”

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