Moon pitches Kona school

A nonprofit foundation headed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon is proposing to build a private high school in Kona.

Hawaii Tribune-Herald/August 9, 2002
By Hunter Bishop

Directors of the Pacific Rim Education Foundation announced plans last week to establish the "High School of the Pacific" on a 32 - acre site makai of Mamalahoa Highway, adjacent to the Kona Ocean View Properties subdivision in Pu'ukala.

The proposed boarding school would house up to 200 students from Pacific island nations and Hawaii in a "shared - living experience," said Joe A. Tully, president of the foundation.

Tully said the school was initiated by Moon after talks with Pacific island leaders, who identified secondary education as one of their countries' most pressing long - term needs. "This unique high school is being built primarily for students from Pacific island nations that are too small to have adequate education systems of their own," Tully said.

A good education will enable the students and their nations "participate in the global advances in knowledge and technology," he said.

"In addition, we believe that a common educational experience and the lifelong, cross - cultural friendships developed at this school can contribute to greater understanding and cooperation in the Pacific region," Tully said.

Tully said discussions are under way with members of the Pu'ukala community who have voiced two primary concerns - whether roads to the school would go through their community, and its effect on the water supply.

Tully said access to the school would run along the northern boundary of the property, not through the community. And foundation planners, working with county officials, have tentatively determined that there's enough county water for the school. "I assured (the community) that if there is not enough water, we'll buy water rights or dig a well," Tully said.

Moon, a Korean religious leader, founded the Unification Church in 1954 and introduced the movement to the United States in the 1960s. Its controversial doctrine is based loosely on Christianity and Moon has suggested he may be the "real Messiah." Mass weddings of Moon's followers, who are matched by the church, are among the church's important rituals. The church claims millions of followers worldwide, and tens of thousands in the United States. Moon was convicted in the U.S. of conspiracy to evade taxes in 1982.

Tully, a member of the Unification Church since 1970, said the proposed school would accept kids of all faiths, cultures, ethnic backgrounds.

Fears about the growing influence of the church, expressed in several letters to West Hawaii Today recently, he said, are a "red herring."

"This school is being set up to serve 12 Pacific island nations," Tully said. "It is not being set up for church operations, by or for any church."

People may have valid concerns about the faith, "but I am not envisioning any overt religious education" at the school, he said. The Unification Church has had a history of involvement with education for 25 years, Tully said, citing the Little Angels High School for the Performing Arts in South Korea, New Hope Academy in Maryland, and the University of Bridgeport (Conn.) as examples of Unification Church - supported schools.

He said the church and affiliated organizations own the 30 - acre school property, another 27 acres in Holualoa, and a wholesale fish company on Oahu.

County Councilman Curtis Tyler, who represents Kona, has encouraged Tully to address the community's concerns about the project and believes he will.

"I've known him for 45 years," said Tyler, who was Tully's classmate at HPA. "I believe he's a man of integrity."

Tyler said the impact of development on the tiny Pu'ukala subdivision will be an increasingly important issue, not just from the proposed school. The area is designated for urban expansion in the county's General Plan and there are currently housing projects planned on three sides of the subdivision.

Tyler, who is not a member of the Unification Church, said, "the issue of one's religious belief is personal." The developer's representative has expressed a willingness to meet the community's concerns head - on, said Tyler. "I have no reason to doubt him."

"The key to all these kinds of things lies in communication," Tyler said. "Everybody just needs to get the facts."

Tuition and fees, and how much will be asked of students who attend the school, have not been determined, Tully said. "We haven't worked out the formula yet.

"Pacific island kids will need more than the standard amounts," he said. "We will have an extra burden of fund - raising."

The foundation has the money necessary for construction, an estimated $4 million to $6 million for the first phase - classrooms, dormitories and administration buildings - to accommodate the first class of ninth graders in September 2004, Tully said.

Tully said the school would have "real involvement" with community with vocational and technical education programs that will include cooperative partnerships with farms in West Hawaii and the marine industry.

"There are some spin - offs from this that are not obvious to the average person. I think this community and its kids will benefit in many ways."

An application for a special use permit to build the school on land zoned for agriculture has been submitted. A hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 6, at Hisaoka Gym conference room, Kapaau.

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