Blessing for North Hawai`i Education and Research Center

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Date: Thursday, July 15, 2004
Contact: Gerald De Mello, (808) 974-7567

For Immediate Release

A blessing will be held to celebrate the renovation and construction of the North Hawai`i Education and Research Center (NHERC), formerly the old Honoka`a Hospital, on Thursday, August 12, at 10:00 a.m. The event is free and open to the public.

The festivities mark the beginning of $1.75 million in renovations to the building, which 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.

“This is an important development for both UH Hilo and the North Hawai`i community,” said Chancellor Rose Tseng. “We’re very excited about establishing a university presence in an area traditionally under-served by higher education, and the opportunity to play a role in its community development activities.”

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.

“When you look at the big picture, the Center has become part of a larger strategy that is re-shaping the entire North Hawai`i community,” said Gerald De Mello, director of university relations. “Waimea is already recognized as a health care community through the addition of its acute care facility and Five Mountains. Similarly, the Center will become the anchor that transforms Honoka`a into a full-service educational community by adding higher education to its existing K-12 institutions.”

The availability of the vacant hospital building helped expedite the project by providing an existing structure in reasonably good repair. Romel Dela Cruz, director of Hale Ho`ola Hamakua, the long-term care facility next to NHERC, sees a symbolic parallel.

“The old hospital site is an appropriate venue for this initiative because it served for so many years to meet the well-being of the community in a health context,” said Dela Cruz. “Its re-birth as a research and educational facility truly symbolizes the community’s recovery from the devastating impact of the sugar industry’s demise ten years ago.”

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, out-reach programs and grassroots community development. But community leaders concluded that any effective recovery plan must include an educational component.

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.

Economic benefits will be generated in part 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.

“This is a classic win-win situation,” Tseng said. “You have an initiative that matches the needs of the community with the mission of the University, and an empty building in an ideal location. The Center is definitely an idea whose
time has come.”


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