Students oppose Governor’s decision on land swap

The map shows the parcels to be swapped in WCC’s proposal to the Hawai‘i State Hospital – WCC Media Services

The map shows the parcels to be swapped in WCC’s proposal to the Hawai‘i State Hospital – WCC Media Services

Note: Content on the Editorial page represents the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Ka ‘Ohana or its staff.

 

For at least the past five years, WCC and the Hawai‘i State Hospital have been embroiled in a dispute over the Bishop Parcel, or what students may more commonly know as “that empty lot with the boarded-up building on the ‘Ākoakoa side of campus.”

What’s the issue? Plain and simple, the state hospital wants to build another multi-storied facility there. WCC wants it to be built somewhere else.

Even though it looks like it’s part of WCC’s campus, the Bishop Parcel actually belongs to the state hospital. It’s a historically protected piece of land – an extension of the Great Lawn that runs through our campus and includes the abandoned, boarded up but still historically protected Bishop Hall building.

The new facility, which would require knocking that building down and digging up the lawn, would provide long-term care housing for elderly residents and long-term patients from the state hospital.

WCC proposed a land swap, offering to take over the Bishop Parcel in exchange for a larger piece of forested land at the bottom of our campus, right next to the Windward Health Center. Although it would have to clear the land first, the state could use this land to create more parking for the always crowded health center, as well as build its facility without the restrictions that come with development on historic land or demolishing a historic building.

This swap would have a multitude of benefits for our school and students. At the bottom of the property, WCC would build a Small Business Service Center and Entrepreneurial Business Incubator that will house our business and computer science departments and is desperately needed for employment and entrepreneurial training, enabling students to learn skills for future employment that will surely improve the future of our economy.

At the top of the property, we would collaborate with Hakipu`u Learning Center to renovate Bishop Hall, preserving the historic building while allowing the charter school to grow and expand its enrollment and further its relationship with WCC by developing the existing co-curricular and dual credit offerings at our school. All of this ensures that we protect the Great Lawn by leaving it open and untouched.

Most importantly, we would not be surrounded on all non-forested sides by potential security issues and therefore feel safer on campus.

Due to past incidents on campus and delayed or non-reports of patient elopement, both students and faculty generally feel wary of their safety and security in regards to the patients and residents of the state hospital.

ASUH surveyed students about the potential of the new state hospital facility and the majority consensus was, “We don’t like it, and we don’t want it.”

This land swap was presented five times to the state and rejected every single time on the grounds that contracts and permits are in place for the proposed long-term care facility and that the facility is needed now.

In response to the February 2016 resolution written and submitted by the Kāne‘ohe Neighborhood Board in support of WCC’s land swap, the Governor’s office wrote a letter back, once again stating that they’re too far along in the planning process to backtrack and the need is immediate so they’re moving forward. But the facts prove that this isn’t the case.

Hakipu`u previously occupied Bishop Hall but was evicted in 2010 to expedite development of this long-term facility. Intensive level surveys and an environmental assessment need to be done before authorization is given to demolish Bishop Hall.

The state acknowledged this need in June 2015. In its August 2015 master plan, it stated that it still didn’t have approval. In February 2016, it acknowledged the need again and promised that work was going to begin in a matter of weeks. As of April 2016, the state hospital still doesn’t have clearance from the appropriate authorities to demolish Bishop Hall or to develop the land.

ASUH has written and submitted a resolution in opposition to the Governor’s decision on the proposed land swap between WCC and the state hospital. In addition to asking the Governor to reconsider his decision, we are asking local lawmakers to investigate the plans in place and their impacts and trying to raise awareness of what’s going on around our campus and our community.

We presented the resolution to other UH student governments and garnered individual campus support and are now spearheading another resolution by the UH Student Caucus, an overarching, system-level body representing all students (undergraduate, graduate, part-time and full-time) from across the UH system.

This new caucus resolution is a general resolution calling for the state to follow proper protocols, policies and procedures when dealing with the university and its agreements. (TMT, anyone?)

In response to the distribution of our resolution, I have been contacted by KHON2 News and The Honolulu Star Advertiser, and there has been expressed interest from Honolulu Civil Beat.

The chair of the University of Hawai‘i Board of Regents (the ones who make all the really big decisions for the UH system) emailed to let me know the resolution was distributed to all regents.

The Kāne‘ohe Neighborhood Board supports our resolution and has written a letter back to the Governor’s office reaffirming its stance. Ko`olaupoko Civic Club will be submitting this issue to its membership for consideration and has invited me to speak at its May meeting.

So many of us, students and faculty alike, take pride in our campus and in being at WCC. ASUH is the students’ mouthpiece, and we are making sure that we are heard.

 

by Kelli Acopan, ASUH-WCC president, Special to Ka ‘Ohana