A project by the Lili‘uokalani Trust to build a youth center for Hawaiian keiki in Keaau moved forward earlier this week after the county approved a building permit.
The Kipuka Keaau Community Center, which will be the trust’s fourth such youth center on the Big Island, will serve as a space for Hawaiian children and families to participate in after-school programs and events.
Michael Shibata, real estate director for the Lili‘uokalani Trust, said the project is an opportunity for the trust to perform much-needed outreach to the Hawaiian community in Puna.
“Our goal is to grow and strengthen our outreach on the Big Island, and Keaau is an area of importance for us,” Shibata said, adding that the Keaau location will complement the trust’s other facilities on the island in Hilo, Kailua-Kona and Waimea.
The trust, established in 1909 by the last queen of Hawaii to care for the children of the state, offers a wide range of youth and family programs — from educational and cultural activities to grief and trauma counseling — at its 17 community centers statewide. The project in Keaau, Shibata said, “is representative of our other programs.”
Shibata said the county on Tuesday approved the project’s request for a special permit to build the center on agriculture-zoned land, moving the project closer to construction.
The proposed site of the center is a 7-acre parcel of land located immediately south of Keaau Elementary School, which the trust will purchase for an undisclosed sum from Puna land company W.H. Shipman, contingent on the final project’s approval by the county, said Shipman President Bill Walter.
“The trust is just a real boon to the community,” Walter said. “I expect the project will go forward. I can hardly see why anyone would oppose it.”
The site, Shibata said, is unique for its close location to Keaau Elementary and High schools, which allows the trust to closely interact with the Keaau community and host programs for students at a convenient location.
The center will include a three-building complex totaling 33,000 square feet. The largest of the three buildings will be a multi-purpose building, including versatile rooms for various after-school programs, while the other two buildings include a learning center, administrative offices and a dance and music studio.
The center also will include a gym facility and a fully functional commercial kitchen, Shibata said.
The remainder of the parcel will include outdoor facilities such as play equipment, terraces, a student garden and a tree house.
Shibata was unwilling to disclose the total cost of the project, explaining that the project remains in the early planning stages and that the trust might choose to conduct construction in phases.
Shibata said he expects the project to receive final approval from the county in early 2019, with construction to begin in late 2020 or early 2021. The center will ideally open in late 2022.
Email Michael Brestovansky at email@example.com.