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`Auwe! Punana Leo must find new quarters for next school year

By CLAUDINE SAN NICOLAS

Staff Writer

WAILUKU -- Beginning Sept. 1, the Hawaiian language immersion preschool in Wailuku will need a new home after 13 years at the same location.

Punana Leo O Maui Preschool was notified earlier this month that its lease at Wailuku Baptist Church would be expiring Sept. 30. The school's kahu/director, Kili Namau`u, said church officials want to use the preschool space on High Street to expand their own programs.

``I'm not bitter about this. We're really grateful to Wailuku Baptist Church for all the years it's given us. The timing, though, is unfortunate,'' Namau`u said.

Punana Leo learned it had achieved national accreditation for early childhood education just a week before church officials gave notice of the lease expiration. Namau`u said the accreditation approval was linked with the church grounds, and a new site would have to undergo the same rigorous approval process.

For now, though, Namau`u is focusing her attention on getting a temporary site in time for the Sept. 1 opening of the school year.

The preschool has plans to build a new school and language center on Lunalilo Street in Wailuku, but the project still has some ways to go. So far, $700,000 of the estimated $2.2 million needed for the project has been raised, and Namau`u said she wants to raise another $1 million before breaking ground.

Along with the preschool, Punana Leo's dreams are to build a state-of-the-art facility that would serve as a resource center for Hawaiian community agencies and organizations and for individuals interested in learning and perpetuating the Hawaiian language and culture.

Preschoolers at Punana Leo are taught exclusively in the Hawaiian language and parents are encouraged to learn the language as well. Enrollment is not limited to Hawaiians.

The preschool has five full-time teachers and an office assistant, along with Namau`u. Staffing would have to be reduced if the preschool is unable to find space comparable to its present site, she said.

Punana Leo presently has 28 preschoolers and can enroll up to 30. Namau`u said she turns away at least 30 families each year because of the lack of space.

The Maui community has always supported Punana Leo in its endeavors, Namau`u said, and now she's appealing for ideas and leads on possible temporary sites. She's already visited a few vacant preschools, but so far, nothing's been confirmed.

``I look to this community for help,'' she said.

Licensing requirements call for at least 1,050 square feet of indoor space, not counting a bathroom, kitchen and hallways. The preschool also needs an outdoor play area of at least 2,300 square feet, parking and access for the disabled. If the site is in a residential area, a special use permit may be needed.

Punana Leo has been paying $1,500 a month for the space it uses at Wailuku Baptist Church. Namau`u said she needs to identify a location soon because renovations and governmental approvals will take at least six months to complete.

She can be contacted at 244-5676.

*Article reprinted with permission from The Maui News.

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Na Leo Pulama O Maui, Inc.
P.O. Box 1038
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Phone: (808) 244-5676
 
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Friday, March 31, 2000