Peter Lee, an enterprising pioneer with an eye to the future, tried to popularize the Punalu‘u-Pahala route to Kilauea Volcano, a noted attraction, then and now.
“The wonderful volcano of Kīlauea, on the island of Hawaii, is the great attractive of visitors. It is the only crater in the world that is constantly in action, and that can be safely approached at all times to the very edge of the precipice which encloses the boiling lava.”
“To reach Kīlauea necessitates a passage of thirty hours from Honolulu in a fine steamer to Hilo or Punalu‘u, then a ride of thirty
miles in coaches takes visitors to a fine hotel, which overlooks the molten lava lake. It is a sight that will repay the effort and expense incurred ten times over, and one that will never be forgotten.” (Whitney)
In 1891, Lee built a 24-mile wagon road from Pahala to Kilauea, following by seven years the construction of a hotel at Punalu‘u. (NPS) However, the construction of the Volcano Road from Hilo had also begun.
With the completion of the Hilo to Volcano Road in 1894, four-horse stagecoaches came into the picture, reducing the travel time from Hilo from two days to six and one-half hours, and Hilo became the principal departure point for Kilauea. (NPS)
Lee later sold to the new owners of the Volcano House and then managed both hotels for them. Lee would remain as manager of the Volcano House until 1898.
Lee established a home on land near the center of the ʻŌlaʻa Summer Lots 29-Mile subdivision, which later become Volcano Village.
Noting the need for a school there, in 1914, Peter Lee donated a one-acre site on Haunani Road (named for one of his daughters) to the Territory of Hawai‘i for a “school to teach the children of the region”.
In 1915 the first school building was constructed – a classic one-room structure, along with a teacher’s cottage, small garage, and water tank. The school was named “Keakealani School” in honor of another of Lee’s daughters. (VSAC DEA)
In 1934 the growing student population called for larger facilities and the present two-room building was constructed and the teachers’ cottage and garage demolished, which left the layout we see there today.
In the late 1930s the Kennedy Family, who owned the property abutting the school site to the Hilo side, donated 2.25 acres to the Territory to increase the site to its current 3.25 acres.
In addition to the two-room building, the property consists of a grassy field with a few open-sided, temporary shelters. (VSAC DEA)
By Executive Order No. 1040 dated November 27, 1943, control of the subject property was placed in the Territorial Department of Public Instruction, now the Department of Education (DOE).
“The Hawaii Visitors Bureau won’t admit it. Mainland tourists basking in the sun at Waikiki beach won’t believe it. But kerosene and electric heaters are used to warm the tootsies of some 100 youngsters who attend classes in several public schools here in this island paradise when the mercury takes a nose dive.”
“Mrs Antonio Short, principal of KeaKealani school in the volcano area on the island of Hawaii, explained that ‘some days during the winter we keep our heaters burning all day and have frosty windows, like real Christmas weather.’”
“‘Frost ‘fell’ on our school yard twice in five years, and the temperature sometimes gets as low as 32 degrees,’ Mrs Short said. ‘Most of the youngsters even have to wear sweaters and coats until 10 am on cold days. And if it gets much worse, the youngsters will have to wear shoes all the time.’” (The Times, Shreveport, December 16, 1956)
DOE operated a public school on the site until 1973, when the students were transferred to Mountain View Elementary School. Until 2010, DOE used the facility as an outdoor education center for elementary students on the island of Hawaii.
Budgetary constraints caused DOE to terminate this program, and the facility was subsequently licensed on a year-to-year basis to Volcano School of Arts and Sciences (Volcano School), a public charter school, commencing on July 1, 2010. (DLNR)
Volcano School used the facility as its middle school campus, and received a $618,000 grant-in-aid from the 2011 Legislature to expand the facility to better accommodate its middle school program.
DOE and Volcano School subsequently executed a Lease Agreement effective as of August 1, 2012 that specifies that the premises shall be used for a charter school (consistent with the purpose of the executive order). (DLNR)
This allows the school to consolidate its grades K-4 classes, which are currently located on Old Volcano Rd., with its grades 5-8 classes so the school’s students will be together on one campus. (KHON2)