Defense officials have announced a $96 million grant to replace a 60-year-old public school on Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The grant will replace the Mokapu Elementary School, which is rated in “poor” condition on the Defense Department’s 2019 “Public Schools on Military Installations Prioritized List.” The deficiencies and capacity issues placed the school at No. 33 on that priority list of public schools operated on bases by local school districts.

The school will serve up to 975 students in prekindergarten through sixth grade. There are 813 students enrolled in the current school year; nearly 200 over the DoD-listed capacity of 627 students. The overwhelming majority of the students are military children.

Construction of the school is expected to begin in October; the project has a tentative completion date of December 2026, said Marine 1st Lt. Mark McDonough, a spokesman for Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The public school is operated by the Hawaii Department of Education. The total budget for the project is expected to be $120 million; the remaining $24 million will come from Hawaii state bond funds, according to a Marine Corps press release.

Marine Corps Base Hawaii “enthusiastically supports the [Hawaii Department of Education’s] reconstruction and expansion of Mokapu Elementary,” Marine Corps officials stated. “The education of school-age dependents remains as one of the base commander’s top priorities.”

The current Mokapu Elementary facilities will remain in operation during the new construction. Most of the school’s 12 permanent buildings were originally built in 1960, and there are 10 portable structures.

The new replacement school will include four new facilities, including a two-story administration building with office space, a library and two specialty classrooms; a multistory building with 55 classrooms and support space; a cafeteria with a stage and a covered play court.

“This new facility will provide the space necessary to meet the current and future demands of student enrollment while also implementing up-to-date technology and ensuring compliance with current building codes and standards,” Marine Corps officials stated.

Keith Hayashi, interim superintendent of the Hawaii State Department of Education, said in a statement provided in the Marine Corps press release, “We are excited that this project is moving ahead to provide students and staff at Mokapu Elementary with an array of brand new facilities that support high-quality learning environments and academic excellence.”

The funding for the DoD grant is provided under DoD’s Public Schools on Military Installations program, authorized by Congress. The Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation must give priority consideration to military installations that have schools with the most serious capacity and facility condition deficiencies, according to a DoD press release.

That office reviewed the school project, along with a federal evaluation team with representatives from the Air Force, Army and Navy.

“The Department of Defense continues to be a valuable partner in the improvement of our public schools on military bases and we thank them tremendously for their support,” stated Hawaii DOE’s Hayashi.

Most schools located on military bases in the U.S., like Mokapu Elementary, are run by public school districts.

The Department of Defense Education Activity’s 160 schools around the world have an enrollment of about 66,000 students. But the vast majority of an estimated 600,000 school-age children of active duty members are educated in public schools or other settings such as private schools, charter schools or home schooling.

Department of Defense Education Activity officials also partner with and support U.S. public school districts with a military-connected student population of 5% or more, in a variety of ways.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the school is 60 years old, not 70 years old.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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