Room to Grow

Momentum building for MCC-Molokai to acquire more land.
By Sean Aronson

Demand for higher education on Molokai is large, but as things are now, not everyone can be accommodated.  While money is the main limiting factor, there is cause for optimism. Just as Obama inspired hope in the country, so, too, is there hope for the future of Molokai’s higher education.

That’s because a college education on Molokai could be getting a boost if a couple of budget proposals fall into place.  A Senate and House bill recently introduced would allocate $500,000 for the purchase of expanding acreage of the Molokai Education Center (MEC). The money would allow the current infrastructure to more than double in land – from two to five acres.

Sen. Kalani English and Rep. Mele Carroll have introduced similar bills in the past and all have gone by the wayside.  But MCC personnel are cautiously optimistic this time, because money has also been allocated in the University of Hawaii’s Long Range Development Planning (LRDP).  The LRDP is an annual document put forth by Capital Improvements division of University of Hawaii (UH).

One reason for the optimism is the relatively small amount land surrounding the building that MEC would need to buy.  While most of the proposals for the Capital Improvement division reach into the multi-millions, MEC needs just a fraction of that to buy the land.

“Our requests are pretty manini,” says Donna Haytko-Paoa, coordinator for MCC-Molokai.

The current Molokai Education Center was completed in 1999 and has vastly improved the educational landscape on Molokai.  But there is still a long way to go, says Haytko-Paoa.  She and her colleagues have big plans for the future of the college.

They would like to see movement on some of the original plans for expansion of the college.  These included a 500-seat auditorium, a science lab and athletic facilities.  The 1999 blueprints also called for a large vocational building that would include automotive and electrician training.  The auditorium would serve the entire community and be the largest gathering space on Molokai.

“Molokai needs a large forum for speakers and the like,” says Haytko-Paoa, “We could be the center of island life and culture.”

But all the planning is purely hypothetical unless the additional land can be purchased.

When the original plans were put forth for the construction of the Education Center, many buildings were left out due to a lack of land.  Molokai Properties Ltd. (MPL) sold MCC two acres, but an additional three acre parcel was placed in a 10 year purchase option window.  The goal was to be able to purchase the land from the Ranch in that 10 year period, but the money never became available. Since they have exceeded that 10 year window, it is unclear how easy it would be purchase that land now.

“A lot of people forget [about the land still being owned by MPL].  They think we already had it,” says Haytko-Paoa.

Currently, the land surrounding the college is rented to Monsanto for growing corn.

Molokai’s branch of Maui Community College began operations in 1970 with a few people and not many services.  Today, the college has an average enrollment of 200 students per semester and offers more than 20 classes on site.  In addition, students can take part in hundreds of other classes occurring on other campuses through distance learning relationships.

MCC-Molokai has 25 upper division students, working towards their Masters and PhD’s.  It also has the distinction of being the most Hawaiian school in the UH system, with 70 % of its students having Hawaiian ancestry.

If expansion was a possibility, Haytko-Paoa says the focus would be on “green solutions.”  This would mean an environmental focus on building materials as well as infrastructure, such as lighting and climate control.

Ultimately, the college would like to have some certainty as they look forward.

“We just wanna know what we can plan for,” says Haytko-Paoa

Those who support the expansion of MCC-Molokai are urged to contact their state representatives and spread the word.

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