Blessing for North Hawai`i Education and Research Center

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Date: Thursday, August 12, 2004
Contact: Gerald De Mello, (808) 974-7567

For Immediate Release

A blessing was held today to celebrate the renovation and construction of the North Hawai`i Education and Research Center (NHERC), formerly the old Honoka`a Hospital.

The event attracted a large cross-section of the community in addition to various county, state and University of Hawai`i dignitaries. Those on hand were treated to food, entertainment and a power-point presentation on the Center development. The $1.75 million renovation plan will include construction of classrooms, computer labs for Web-based education, a multi-purpose room and offices.

The University of Hawaii at Hilo , in concert with the community, developed the Center concept to provide opportunities in higher education and to come up with new approaches to meeting the challenges of Hawai`i’s economy in the 21st century.

“UH Hilo is excited to become a part of the North Hawai`i community as it writes a new chapter in its proud and storied history,” said Chancellor Rose Tseng. “We believe there is tremendous potential here, and look forward to working with the community to help build a bright future.”

The North Hawai`i region includes the communities of Laupahoehoe, Honoka`a, Waimea, Kohala and Waikoloa. With its central location, the Center will take advantage of the workforce community initiatives established by State Representative Dwight Takamine, the wellness activities in Waimea initiated by Five Mountains Medical Group and the aging population of the North Hawai`i community.

John Kai, University of Hawai`i Board of Regents East Hawai`i member, and a Honoka`a High School graduate, said the Center will provide opportunities his generation and others never enjoyed.

“It was either stay home, which often meant going to work in some aspect of the sugar industry, or leave your home and family to seek opportunities elsewhere,” Kai said. “Bringing this Center to Honoka`a will give today’s generation and those that follow a choice that we could only dream of.”

The area has undergone significant change over the past decade. A combined 1,200 jobs were lost due to the shutdown of large-scale sugar operations. Workers have been sustained in part through job training, outreach programs and grassroots community development. Yet the region has remained largely under-served by higher education.

“This is a truly inspiring story about a community that refused to give up or lose faith in itself despite the devastating demise of the sugar industry,” Takamine said. “From the doubling of Hale Ho`ola’s long-term care capacity to the development of a comprehensive agricultural plan, the community is creating a new, diverse and dynamic economic base. The Center will become the crown jewel of this effort, by providing an educational component to tie all these activities together.”

The credit and non-credit programs offered at the facility will serve college students, advanced placement (AP) high school students, adult learners, trade union members, seniors, and displaced workers with in-service training for professionals, ag extension support services and training, and computer classes.

”By adding the Center to our existing K-12 institutions, Honoka`a will become a full-service educational community,” said Art Souza, principal of Honoka`a High School. “That’s significant, because it will provide us with many more options to creatively link up our various resources.”

Economic benefits will be generated by attracting visitors to the area who will provide new sources of revenue for local merchants. Additionally,the Center will host a constant flow of varied users who are expected to be drawn to it by activities including special events, programs, conferences, retreats and town meetings.

The project was designed by Pacific Architects. Stan’s Contracting, Inc. was selected as the general contractor. Construction is expected to take anywhere from eight to twelve months. Classes will likely commence by next fall.

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