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Loss of school stings: Destruction of Kua O Ka La ‘utterly devastating’

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Susie Osborne, head of Kua O Ka La Public Charter School, shows a photograph of the school on her phone Thursday at the school's office in Hilo after the school was taken by lava Wednesday night in lower Puna.
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Susie Osborne, head of Kua O Ka La Public Charter School, gazes out the window and tries to look to the future Thursday at the school's office in Hilo after the school was taken by lava Wednesday night in lower Puna.

The loss of lower Puna’s Kua O Ka La Public Charter School is “utterly devastating, both personally and for our community,” Susie Osborne, head of school, said Thursday, a day after the school was destroyed by lava.

According to Osborne, the school was located on the site of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village replete with archaeological sites, fishponds, lowland rain forest and was historically a sacred location. The campus had six buildings and two large grain houses for the agriculture program.

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It was a “very special learning environment” for students, she said, and its destruction is a “significant” cultural loss.

National Weather Service meteorologist Matthew Foster said during a Thursday briefing that before lava consumed the school, there was an unsuccessful attempt to recover instruments that had been placed on campus. The instruments included a seismometer, GPS surveying tool, an infrasound monitor and the solar power system that powered all of them.

The school, which is on summer break, moved classes from its campus to Hilo in May after being threatened by lava from the current eruption, which started May 3.

Still, Osborne said news that the lava had claimed the school late Wednesday was a shock.

“I think we (held) onto hope every second, and we just knew it was possible, but we prayed that was not the outcome,” Osborne said.

However, short- and long-term plans for the school are in place to guide the school into the future.

“In the short term is the relocation to Hilo for the next school year,” Osborne said.

Preschool will continue in its existing location at Pu‘ula United Church of Christ in Nanawale, and middle and high school students will be located at the Boys and Girls Club in Hilo. Meanwhile, plans are being finalized with Nani Mau Gardens for kindergarten through sixth-grade students.

The long-term plan, however, “is to rebuild the campus and develop a model for the nation that is environmentally sustainable and reflecting 21st century skills and our culture in harmony with the environment,” Osborne said.

According to Osborne, the “Hawaiian focus” charter school has 230 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

A GoFundMe account, established to help the school with relocation expenses, can be found online at gofundme.com/relocate-school-displaced-by-lava.

Osborne said the school still is enrolling students in all grades, and the staff looks forward to “deeply supporting our students and families as we always have, with aloha.”

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Reporter Michael Brestovansky contributed to this article.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.