School closure fears over repairs

By Morgan Tait of Hawke's Bay Today -
Fears have arisen after local principals are questioning whether the schools should be closed or merged. Photo / Thinkstock
Fears have arisen after local principals are questioning whether the schools should be closed or merged. Photo / Thinkstock

A repair bill in excess of $100 million to upgrade outdated Hawkes Bay classrooms has local principals questioning whether local schools could close or be merged.

The Ministry of Education said there were no plans to reorganise the network of 164 East Coast schools that have 50-year-old portable modular classrooms (PMCs) that need to be rebuilt by 2015.

However, local principals say the same steps are being taken as in Christchurch before the decision to restructure schools there.

Hawkes Bay Primary Principals Association vice-president and Te Mata School principal Mike Bain said builders uncovered the risk of PMCs by accident about two years ago, and though the pre-fab type buildings have been earthquake strengthened, they will still need to be rebuilt in the next three years.

"The buildings are safe, they had about $9 million spent on them to make them safe for now, but at that point they were given five years to be replaced," he said.

"From a public perspective I don't have any worries of my daughter sitting in a PMC; they are not going to tumble down, that's not a possibility.

"The issues are the continuing and ongoing risks."

The classrooms were installed by an old regulatory body, the Hawkes Bay Education Board, as a quick-fix solution to a population influx about four decades ago.

Schools have since renovated, remodelled and incorporated the rooms into their schools as everything from classrooms to libraries, technology blocks, and even school halls.

Local principals have been working with local and national ministry staff on the issue.

"The question is how does the Ministry carry on educating kids when they have to rebuild the school," Mr Bain said. "There is not a quick fix.

"It is my summation, looking at the Christchurch model, if they have to do a serious rebuild and spend an awful lot of money it will be looking more widely at an education solution.

"If one school has a declining roll or is in serious degradation state because the money hasn't been spent on it, what if it makes sense to merge two or three schools to get better educational value?"

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she had not asked for a review of the education network in Hawkes Bay.

"An assessment of property has been completed which we will look into next year. The issue with some of the buildings is a long-standing issue spanning back 40-50 years which needs to be addressed."

A Ministry of Education spokesperson said there were no current plans to reorganise the network in the region. "The ministry is currently working through the process to address this issue."

The spokesperson said the programme aimed at "scoping the full extent" of earthquake, weather-tightness and normal maintenance.

It was not known when the findings of assessments would be known or made public, and some principals feared the results could put pressure on school budgets.

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