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Date: Monday, May 8, 2006
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

Grand opening for North Hawai`i Education and Research Center

The public is invited to attend a blessing and grand opening for the University of Hawaii at Hilo North Hawai`i Education and Research Center (NHERC) on Tuesday, May 23, at 10 a.m. The event will be held at the former Honoka`a Hospital.

The festivities mark the formal completion of $1.75 million in Phase I renovations, which include construction of classrooms, computer labs for Web-based education, a multi-purpose room and offices. State lawmakers have approved an additional $3.75 million for future Phase II development, which will include more classrooms, an AV equipped display hall and a Data/Communication Room that will provide two-way video capacity and wireless data connection.

Establishing a higher education presence in North Hawai`i has been a long-time objective of the University, which first approached lawmakers and the community about the project in 2000. University officials readily credit the community with making the Center a reality.

“We were very pleased with the enthusiastic response the idea received,” said UH Hilo University Relations Director Gerald De Mello. “This Center is exciting because it is community driven and was developed in response to community needs.”

The North Hawai`i region includes the communities of Laupahoehoe, Honoka`a, Waimea, Kohala and Waikoloa. Although underserved in higher education opportunities, the area is considered to be rich in opportunities for research, field studies, and internships in areas including rural health and nursing, agriculture, Hawaiian history, performing arts, natural and social sciences and oral histories of old plantation and ranching communities.

Corinne Tamashiro, interim dean of the College of Continuing Education and Community Service (CCECS), sees the Center as an effective vehicle for reaching high school juniors and seniors and those who commute long distances to work, all of whom might attend college if they could take classes closer to home. And she believes the possibilities are only limited to the imagination.

“We’ve had a tremendous response to the introductory college courses we’ve taught in North Hawai`i, along with our planned offerings through the Osher Life Long Learning Institute,” Tamashiro said. “One of the things we’re particularly excited about is developing classes that can be taken together as an intergenerational family initiative, which residents have shown strong interest in.”

NHERC’s credit and non-credit programs will effectively serve college and advanced placement (AP) high school students, adult learners, trade union members, seniors and displaced workers with in-service training for professional workers, agriculture extension support services and training and computer classes.

“Higher education has an important role to play in meeting the challenges of Hawai`i’s economy in the 21st century,” said Chancellor Rose Tseng. “To that end, we’re pleased to partner with the North Hawai`i community and look forward to doing great things together.”

NHERC’s central location effectively positions the Center to combine the workforce community initiatives established by State Representative Dwight Takamine with the wellness activities in Waimea initiated by Five Mountains Medical Group and the aging population of the North Hawai`i community.

Honoka`a Business Association President Lois Keb says bringing higher education to the community means residents no longer have to choose between a rural lifestyle and higher education. And she says the business community is excited about the Center’s upside potential.

“Education is opportunity at its best,” Keb said. “Honoka`a businesses can only appreciate the benefits that will come from it.”

The Center will provide economic benefits to the community by drawing visitors to the area, whose activities will create new revenue sources for local merchants. At the same time, special events, programs, conferences, retreats and town hall meetings will make the facility a valuable community resource and gathering place.

Takamine sees the Center as an important component in the area’s recovery from the loss of 1,200 jobs when large-scale sugar operations were shut down in the mid-1990s. Up to now, workers have been sustained in part through job-training, outreach programs and grassroots community development, but have longed for an educational component.

“The Center is important because higher education is the element that ties together everything we have done to create a more diverse, broad-based economy,” Takamine said. “More importantly, education is a clean industry that preserves the special character of North Hawai`i, yet has the capacity to
grow and develop to meet future challenges as they occur. You couldn’t ask for a better win-win situation than that.”

Melvin Ah Ching, a Honoka`a resident and Lion’s Club member who worked on the community steering committee, agrees. He sees the Center as the higher education ticket many residents are looking for to improve their lifestyle. And he’s not concerned that a more skilled and educated workforce will take their talents in search of employment elsewhere.

“The people who will use the Center have their roots in North Hawai`i, and they want to stay here,’ Ah Ching said. “So the skills and education they acquire will be directly invested in the community.”


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