Alaka‘i Academy is moving forward with plans to build a preschool campus of its own off Queen Kaahumanu Highway in Kailua-Kona.

The preschool, which currently operates out of Kaiwi Square in the Old Kona Industrial Area, is seeking a special permit from the Hawaii County Planning Department to use land the state has designated only for agricultural purposes for a campus on about 2 acres mauka of the state highway and north of Hualalai Road.

Alaka‘i Academy, operated by Pablo Penaloza, opened in 2014. Licensed by the state Department of Human Services, the preschool boasts an enrollment of 72 students with 13 staff members.

Development of the new school would provide capacity for future expansion, as well as for more non-school hour opportunities for students and their families, according to Penaloza’s application for the special permit. The Leeward Planning Commission is set to take up the request during its meeting scheduled at 9:30 a.m. Thursday via Zoom.

“We envision that the new facility will have capacity to serve our current license capacity of 72 children on Day One. We would likely build in some excess capacity to accommodate growth in the future. It is worth noting that the COVID-19 crisis has taken a toll on our enrollment and we are currently below our capacity. Yet, our goal would be to increase he enrollment overtime,” Penaloza wrote, noting that staffing would likely increase to 15.

The acreage being eyed for the preschool, though designated agricultural, is not considered to have high agricultural potential due to “very poor” soil. A special permit is required to allow for school use of the acreage.

“The use is reasonable in the Agricultural District because the property does not have a high potential for agriculture and could better serve the community through its use as a school,” reads the planning director’s recommendation, finding the project an “unusual and reasonable use” within the district, and not contrary to state land use laws and regulations.

Surrounding land is also designated agricultural with the Kona Heights subdivision located about 1,300 feet north and the Hualalai Colony subdivision about 500 feet east of the proposed preschool. Directly north is Innovations Public Charter School’s 9.3-acre campus that serves pupils in grades kindergarten through eight. Vacant lands make up the remainder of the area.

The school would comprise a “set” of buildings totaling 10,000 square feet. It will include classrooms, bathrooms, and a cafeteria with a kitchen, as well as a lobby, administrative office space and storage rooms. A tent-like pavilion will be constructed for student use, such as outdoor performances and gatherings.

The academy would operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and be closed on weekends and major holidays. Drop off and pick up times would be between 7 and 9 a.m. and 3 and 5 p.m., respectively. The preschool will remain open over the summer and non-holiday school breaks.

When pre-K school is not in session, the applicant plans to rent out the venue for events