Losing Kaupō’s Historical Treasure

Ka Wai Ola

Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey, Trustee, Maui

I have invited Alohalani Smith to express her views about the Kaupō Restoration Project. The following are her thoughts.

Kaupō is a small rural community that is situated at the base of Haleakalā at the end of Hāna Highway. Kaupō is a Native Hawaiian place, full with ruins of heiau, kauhale, and mele. Kaupō School is one of two rural two-room schoolhouses that are known to exist in Maui County. Built in 1923 on 2.25 acres of land, the school served the children of ranchers, cowboys, and farmers in grades 1-6. The weathered structures have not been used since the 1960s and have fallen into disrepair so serious that they are beginning to collapse. It is on the National Register of Historic Places as one of the last two historic surviving buildings on Maui.

In its Grants-in-Aid (GIA) application, the Kaupō Community Association (Association) claimed that Kaupō School will be restored to correct historical standards and will ultimately be utilized to serve as a community center. Community members imagine that the school will serve as an active, traditional place for community meetings and events, including hoʻolaulea, gatherings, parties, lūʻau, cultural events and programs, and educational programs. Kaupō School was intended to also be a place where community members can gather during severe weather events and emergencies and will be equipped with the resources to ensure that basic hazard mitigation needs are met. Kaupō School was planned to be decorated with historical pictures and artifacts that will provide narratives of Kaupō.

Unfortunately, it appears that the building has been demolished and reconstructed. When a building is restored, the building is accurately represented in its form, features, and character of the property as it appeared at a particular period of time. Features from other periods in its history and reconstruction are removed. In its building permit, the Association claimed that the school would be rehabilitated. When a building is rehabilitated, the building is made sound through repair, alterations and additions while preserving historical, cultural, or architectural portions of the building. The Association, therefore, has been inconsistently representing the actual actions surrounding this building.

As a result of these inconsistent uses, the Maui Planning Department will be issuing a notice of warning to the Association because the use of the property establishing the original building is inconsistent with what they have represented in its permit and GIA application. Additionally, the reconstruction of the property has violated zoning laws. Kaupō School is on a parcel designated as an agricultural district under the Land Use Commission and under the Maui County Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance. While restoration is listed as an acceptable use under the zoning code, demolition and reconstruction of a building is not.

Despite our satisfaction in the Planning Department’s above actions, there are still many questions that need to be answered. For example, it is unknown how a demolition activity could have been permitted under a permit for restoration activities, who authorized these activities within government agencies, and which parties in the Association were tasked with the decision regarding demolition of the original building.

Allowing the destruction of this cultural treasure and National Historic Place is unacceptable. The restoration of Kaupō School was envisioned to create a model for correct restoration and vibrant adaptive reuse where traditional Hawaiian values maintain significance and importance to the community. Despite this project’s initial shining promise, this startling lack of accountability and transparency has turned this project into a historic disaster, dampening future progress and development sought for our communities.