Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Who needs enemies when Friends of Monte are on the rampage?

Monte Cecilia School in Hillsborough. Photo / Martin Sykes
Monte Cecilia School in Hillsborough. Photo / Martin Sykes

Whoever coined the expression "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" obviously had no experience of the upset caused by the closure of a neighbourhood school.

Every Minister of Education in recent years bears the scars from closing local schools that have outlived their time.

Tomorrow afternoon it's the turn of Auckland Mayor John Banks and his guests at the grand opening of the TSB Bank Wallace Art Centre, at Pah Homestead in Monte Cecilia Park.

They'll have to run the gauntlet of angry "Friends of Monte"- supporters of Monte Cecilia School, just over the fence from the homestead, which faces closure in five years so the encircling new park can spread on down to Hillsborough Rd.

If Catholic Bishop Pat Dunn is on the guest list, he's likely to get as big a raspberry from his flock - this is a Catholic primary school after all - as the Mayor.

Because in the eyes of the Friends, their senior shepherd is the wolf in clerical disguise, as much a villain in agreeing to sell the school as are Mr Banks and his council for tempting him with the $25 million-$30 million the deal is worth.

"What gives you the moral right to sell this land," thunders a questionnaire to the bishop on the Friends' website.

"Is it good Christian behaviour to arbitrarily decide to relocate a 58-year-old primary school when you don't know precisely where it will go and you have no way of knowing whether the children and families will be better or worse off."

To an outsider like myself, it seems a pretty good bargain for the bishop. Not only does he get the going price for the land to salt away in the diocese bank account, he's also got a legal commitment from the city council to build a brand new school of equivalent amenity value further along Hillsborough Rd alongside the St John Vianney parish church.

In addition, the council will pay for major earthworks, build a replacement church hall, compensate the parish for the inconvenience and pay all legal costs.

Bishop Dunn must be wondering why his Hillsborough flock can't be more like the Owairaka parishioners just down the road.

There, the church and school had to make way for State Highway 20 and the locals are on cloud nine over the fancy new facilities built for them by Transit New Zealand.

Doomed Monte Cecilia School looks tired. But instead of fantasising about the 21st century replacement on offer, the Friends are gunning for the bishop and his years of neglect of the old school.

They complain that since 2000, approximately $1 million has been paid in school fees to the diocese but there's been "no capital expenditure" back into the school.

During that time, the diocese also received $9.5 million by selling the Pah Homestead and other adjacent land to the council.

The Friends, wearing their Auckland City ratepayers' hats, are also denouncing the school sale as a huge waste of ratepayers' funds. I admit that on my first visit, some months ago, I did wonder why the school had to go.

But on Wednesday, wandering around the restored homestead and gazing down on the surrounding parkland from the baronial tower, the grand scheme that Deputy Mayor David Hay and his advisers have been battling away for a decade or more to achieve made perfect sense.

A major park like this needs a major street frontage. At present, access is up a small roadway, or along footpaths from Herd, Mt Albert and Pah Rds. It needs a public face, and moving the school and, in time, the adjacent pensioner housing will achieve that.

Before the Friends tell me, as an outsider, to butt out, I can trump their claim to deep family connections.

My mother was a boarder at the original school run by the nuns in the now magnificently restored homestead.

She never talked about those days, but she had a passion for gardening and parks which I like to think was sparked in the grand Victorian landscape of Monte Cecilia, laid out in the 1870s and 1880s.

She would have loved this new park. As a tireless organiser of fundraising ventures for school and other causes, I suspect she would have also said, if offered a new school with all mod cons, "Hallelujah, there is a God, where do we sign?"

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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