By Liz Larson – When I was in intermediate school, I ran for 7th grade president. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I made a sign shaped like a life preserver that read S.O.S. – Save Our School! At the school assembly, I made a joke about how as 7th grade president I would swoop in and save our school from imminent destruction. I guess I was funny enough because I was elected.
Life runs full circle. Today, twenty-four years later, I am saying the same thing: “Save our school!” But it is no laughing matter.
Because of two bills being considered at the capitol with overwhelming support by most lawmakers, SB 237 and HB 865, the public school that my children attend is at risk of being torn down for the construction of a private development of high rise buildings of valuable ocean view condo rentals. Although the bills currently ask for only two pilot schools to be used in the program, Jefferson Elementary School is at the highest risk because of the premium value of its approximately 15 acres situated only one block from world famous Waikiki Beach.
The bills claim that the 50 year lease proposed for the two projects will generate revenues that will directly benefit the school children by modernizing school facilities for the twenty-first century. However, using current market rates in Waikiki, a lease for 15 acres will generate a meager $10.5 million in revenues per year. This seems like child’s play compared to the cost of the Early Childhood Development program introduced by Governor Abercrombie this year. It is estimated by the Budget and Finance Director, Kalbert Young, that it will cost taxpayers over $100 million to add just one preschool grade level to the public school system.
It the taxpayers are not benefiting from these projects, who is? It is certainly not the residents of the urban communities that are being targeted. They would never consider trading beautiful open space for a concrete jungle.
Jefferson Elementary School is not the only school that is at risk. All public school land from Farrington to Hawaii Kai in the urban core is being considered, even if it is currently being used for educational purposes. So instead of shouting “Save our school!” perhaps I should be shouting “Save your school!”
It is time for us to tell our representatives and senators that we want them to save our schools by voting ‘No’ to SB 237 and HB 865.
Liz Larson is a resident of Waikiki with two children in public school. She is also the President of the Jefferson Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization and a member of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board.