Malama ‘Aina Nanakuli Style: The NFL Youth Education Town Hawaii

In the last couple of years a number of interesting articles have been written about the new NFL Youth Education Town Hawaii facility in Nanakuli.  While most articles have focused on the building and its Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii programs none has focused on its landscape and gardens.

The National Football League Youth Education Town (NFL YET) Hawaii, built on 1.61 acres of Hawaiian Home Lands located next to Nanaikapono Elementary School in Nanakuli, is a legacy of the NFL Pro Bowl, which has been played in Hawaii since 1980.  It will be the only YET facility built outside a Super Bowl host city. The NFL YET’s are designed to help youngsters succeed by providing educational assistance, job training, technical instruction, life-skills development, and fitness and recreational outlets. The 10,000-square foot facility is managed by the Boys & Girls Club of Hawaii, which serves more than 14,000 youngsters on Oahu and Kauai, ages 7-17, with programs designed to inspire and enable them to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.

Funding for the project is a shining model of government interagency and private non-profit organization cooperation.  Several organizations/agencies contributed $1 million or more including the Boys and Girls Club of Hawaii (BGCH), National Football League (NFL), and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the form of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds and Economic Development Initiatives/Special Purpose Grant (EDI/SPG) funds. The facility cost $5,635,000. Other funding sources included City and County of Honolulu, State of Hawaii, Office of Financial Affairs and other foundations.


YET Hawaii houses a large multi-purpose community room, library, arts and crafts room, learning center, computer and technology center and a multimedia studio supported by the Forever Young Foundation. The landscape site program includes an entry garden, multi-purpose lawn terrace and outdoor amphitheater, native dryland garden, and agricultural crops garden.


The NFL YET Hawaii recently received the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certification from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) and is the first LEED certified after-school facilities in the NFL YET network. The LEED Green Building Rating System™ encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria.  One of the highlights of the LEED; and sustainability features of the center is its landscape. The site is a microcosm of an ahupua’a, ancient Hawaiian land division system. It sits on an ancient coral terrace formation.  Low impact Development (LID) strategies guided the sustainable site design such as minimizing grading and site disturbance.  Grading was limited to excavating a flat pad for the YET building and a small parking lot for staff and handicap vehicles located near the high point of the site.  Excavated coral rock was reused on site for landscape rock walls, terraces, natural rock features, channels, swales, and borders. Existing site features including a small hill, upper, middle, and lower terraces were preserved.  Landscape program elements were then selected based on their functional compatibility with the existing landforms. The small hill became a native dryland garden. The upper terrace where the YET facility is sited became the outdoor lawn extension of the multipurpose community room and lanai. The lawn terrace spills down a natural bowl-shaped slope providing the lawn seating area for the amphitheater, and flattens out at the bottom of the bowl forming the stage at the middle terrace.  A low rock retaining wall separates the amphitheater from the agricultural crops garden at the lower terrace, the lowest point of the site. All gardens areas are connected by an accessible meandering garden path of stabilized crushed basalt fines.

Similar to an ahupua’a, water plays an important role in the YET Hawaii landscape.  This region is very dry and to make the land productive, youth members at YET learn to use water very wisely. Rainwater is captured off of 75% of the roof area of the facility and stored in a 5,000 gallon steel tank.  The stored water is used by youth members to nourish the vegetables and other crops they grow in the garden at the lower terrace.  Water is delivered from the tank to the crop garden in a gravity fed auwai, an open irrigation channel constructed of coral rock along a path bordering the native dryland garden.  A water level gauge on the side of the tank allows youth members to carefully monitor and responsibly use this precious resource.  At the entry garden rainwater from 25% of the roof area is collected in a downspout that spills into a rock basin.  The basin overflows into a rock swale that follows the porous concrete entry walkway  teminating at a drywell near the project entry allowing the runoff to percolate back into the ground.  An ahu, stone marker, stands over the drywell memorializing the return of the water to the ground at the entrance to the site.

The native dryland garden features native and Polynesian introduced dryland and coastal plant species that may have once been common to the area. These include Loulu, Alahe’e, Koaia, Milo, Kou, A’ali’i, Naio, Kului, Nanu, Mao, Ulei, Pili, Akia, Pohinahina, Aki aki, Mau aki aki, and Ilima papa.  Other native plants function as perimeter buffers, visual screens, and erosion control on slopes.  These include Hau, Kokio ula, Ki, Kupukupu, and Uki uki.

A variety of native, Polynesian introduced, and ornamental trees and palms planted throughout the garden areas provide much needed shade, visual interest, and food.  Niu, Hala, and Kou greet youth members, staff and visitors in the entry garden.  In the lawn terrace and amphitheater area, Kukui, Ulu, Kamani, and Rainbow Shower trees frame the outdoor rooms, and last but not least Variegated Hau trees ring the agricultural crops garden.

Recently, on a sunny Nanakuli winter afternoon on January 26 the YET Hawaii garden was abuzz with excitement and anticipation.  Youth members met NFL Probowlers and US Army soldiers and planted Ohia ai, Mountain Apple, Star Fruit, Meyers Lemon, Lime, and Tangerine trees around the garden.  The children showed off their compost bins, Kalo and succulent Manoa lettuce growing in the garden..  Traditional Hawaiian values of Aloha ‘aina – love of the land and Malama ‘aina – practicing good stewardship of the land and natural resources are alive and well in Nanakuli.


Joel Kurokawa, ASLA is a Principal at Ki Concepts LLC.

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About the author  ⁄ Chauncey Hirose-Hulbert

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