The Hawaii State Legislature has agreed to appropriate $7.5 million in bonds to build the first part of the new West Hawaii Community College at Palamanui, the Charles Schwab/Guy Lam development mauka of Kona Airport.
Jim Lightner, Hospitality Division Chair says the current campus offers programs in nursing, business, management, hospitality and tourism, liberal arts, and early childhood education. But one of the jewels is the 20-year-old culinary program. They’ve had around 140 graduates with Associate Degrees–but dozens more with different kinds of certificates.
Lightner says the real success of the program is the number of graduates who are working at good, responsible jobs in Kohala Coast resorts and local restaurants. He cited the executive chefs for the Mauna Kea, the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, the Outrigger Keauhou, Jackie Rey’s, and Hapuna Prince. He says James Babian, Executive Chef at the Four Seasons, used to be an instructor at the college, and now hires many of the students.
The new campus, set to open in Fall, 2014, will offer expanded class offerings and have a more robust culinary program. They will have around 7,000 square feet of the new campus’s 35,000 under-roof square feet. That will include a number of kitchens, a dining room to seat 60 for fine dining, and outdoor dining as there is now at Kealakekua for feeding the public, and at the new campus, staff, faculty, and students. Lightner says they’ll have more than double their current student body of 700 within two years–and right now, the Culinary Program will be the only food offerings in the area.
Lightner says their focus will be Fast and Fresh, which could include ethnic foods, but most definitely foods served to order or within a short time.
The new campus is also relying on the American Culinary Federation’s Hawaii Island Chapter. Though the state funding will get the buildings built in the first phases, the ACF has committed to help raise $1 million to provide state of the art equipment and tools. Lightner says that’s necessary so the students can go directly from the program to working in the finest restaurants and resorts–which will have similar equipment. He says many other organizations on the island are committed to helping, from the Rotary Clubs to Ironman to The Chocolate Festival to Earth Day events.
Groundbreaking is slated for later this year, probably August. There will be a celebratory luau at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel which will likely help raise additional funds for the new college’s culinary program’s equipment.
Jim Lightner Interview: