Auckland classrooms at bursting point (+infographic)

By Nicholas Jones, Infographic: Harkanwal Singh

Planned housing intensification will put added pressure on Auckland schools which are already struggling to cope with the region's booming population as the Ministry of Education casts around for solutions.

Balmoral principal Malcolm Milner's old buildings are likely to make way for classrooms on two levels. Photo / Dean Purcell
Balmoral principal Malcolm Milner's old buildings are likely to make way for classrooms on two levels. Photo / Dean Purcell

Radical measures are on the cards to cope with a huge increase in the number of school-age children in Auckland as already full schools struggle to cope.

The Ministry of Education must find space for 107,000 more school-age children in the city over the next 30 years, and planned housing intensification means existing schools will shoulder much of the increase.

Documents obtained by the Herald reveal what measures will be considered - including shifting school enrolment zones, making intermediate schools take primary-aged children and snapping up any available land for new schools.

Changes to school zones can be controversial with local communities and influence a property's value by tens of thousands of dollars.

Mobile users can click below for the Herald infographic:

The Herald has analysed roll information for 565 schools in greater Auckland and from today readers can use an interactive graphic on nzherald.co.nz to see exactly how student numbers at their local schools have changed over the past 10 years.

There are astonishing increases. Since 2003 to July last year, Westmere School grew by 52 per cent to 639 students and nearby Western Springs College almost doubled in size.

Mt Albert School saw an 86 per cent jump to 323 students and the roll at Gladstone Primary shot up by 100 in a single year.

Pressure points include the Western Bays area of central Auckland, Mt Albert, Takapuna on the North Shore, Papatoetoe and, longer-term, areas further out including Warkworth.

More than a quarter of the student population growth will centre on the Auckland isthmus, where land is particularly scarce and intensification likely to be most intense.

In the inner-city, apartment dwellers are predicted to swell the resident population from 23,000 in 2006 to 78,000 in 2040.

One potential solution put forward by the Ministry of Education is to lease building spaces in commercial buildings for inner-city primary schooling, a report released under the Official Information Act reveals.

Other suggestions include adding classrooms, bulldozing existing schools and putting in two-storey blocks, or changing school zones or the ages of students who go to them.

"It's like a jigsaw," said Associate Education Minister Nikki Kaye.

"Can you sometimes go out, can you sometimes go up, and what's the community's view of that?"

The complexity can be seen in the Western Bays area of the central city, where schools like Pt Chevalier Primary are full to bursting.

The ministry had proposed building more classrooms or turning Pasadena Intermediate into a full primary school (years 1 to 8), but both options were rejected by many as short-sighted and ad hoc.

Officials have now established a working group of all the area's school principals and boards of trustees chairs, charged with finding a long-term solution for the Western Bays as a whole.

The group met for the first time this month and hopes to have made decisions by September. Much hinges on its ability to do so.

"It's the first time the ministry has tried this approach.

"I think it has other clusters around Auckland that, if this works, it will use that approach as well," said Pt Chevalier principal Sandra Aitken.

Her school is in an urgent position with about 670 students on its crowded site (the board of trustees chairman has complained that children are increasingly running into each other during play).

"I'm really pleased it is looking at the wider picture.

"I don't think the ministry has always done that ... [but] the reference group is awfully big so it will be interesting to see how that goes."

Other schools such as Balmoral School are likely to be almost completely rebuilt, with old single-storey and sometimes leaky buildings making way for two-storey classroom blocks.

Ms Kaye told the Herald comprehensive rebuilds were designed to "future-proof" schools and would be more expensive than shorter-term fixes.

"We need to be taking a few risks to give that extra capacity and I think schools are supportive of that because they look out at their communities over a longer time period and they welcome a masterplan approach."

But like the city they serve, schools will have to find space for extra students largely within existing boundaries - meaning fields and open spaces will come under threat.

Ms Kaye said authorities were "very, very focused" on the balance between any new building projects and recreational spaces at schools. That often involved building upwards, but also making use of parks and other open areas in the surrounding area.

"We've got to take a masterplan approach to communities. And that means that schools will obviously need an amount of recreational space, but that we have good community facilities in surrounding areas."

Green space will be a particular issue for any new schools in the central business district.

Writing about the prospect of leasing commercial building space for inner-city primary schooling, ministry officials noted that "mitigation around play space and the physical education curriculum will require some thought".

Ms Kaye said the leasing option was not on the agenda, but could be considered longer-term.

"If there was a CBD school, then we would absolutely have to have space from a recreational perspective. Now, whether that could be an arrangement like using part of Victoria Park's grounds, we are quite a way off that."

In the past five years 11 new state schools opened in Auckland, with $276 million spent on them and 330 classrooms to mop up roll growth.

More new schools are promised, but even that costly measure can be met with resistance.

The ministry paid $7.5 million to the Auckland Trotting Club for more than 3ha of Epsom land in 1999, with plans for a new 1500-student school that would lease playing-field space inside the ring of the nearby racetrack. The school never eventuated after fierce opposition by residents who wanted to stay in zone for existing schools. There are no immediate educational plans for the site.

The ministry works with Auckland Council and its projections of where population growth is expected and also monitors how special housing projects will affect demand.

In Manurewa, Waimahia Intermediate School (formerly Weymouth Intermediate) wants to take primary-age students too, to cater for a housing project nearby that will see up to 280 homes built over the next four years.

Board of trustees member Alan Johnson said a falling roll at the school had put it under severe financial pressure.

The Herald interactive map of schools shows many, particularly lower-decile schools, have seen their numbers fall. There can be a range of factors behind declining rolls, and some schools will deliberately downsize or have remained near capacity.

Mr Johnson said that because funding was tied to student numbers schools were in competition with each other, a "civil war" situation meant capacity in some areas was wasted.

Tinkering with enrolment schemes to direct the flow of students to certain schools can help and 19 have been amended in recent years.

But with school zones prominent on any real estate listing, those changes can rile residents.

Eyes from across Auckland are now on school leaders in the Western Bays area to see what they come up with.

Going up to increase capacity

Auckland's booming population means your local school could soon look very different.

Balmoral School in central Auckland is set to be transformed, with old one-storey buildings making way for two-storey classroom blocks.

Principal Malcolm Milner said the school, which is unusual in that it has a dedicated intermediate and primary school on one site, had been talking to the Ministry of Education about rebuild plans for about 18 months.

In 10 years the total roll has grown by 32 per cent to 804, with 875 students projected by October, 2016.

The school also has some leaky buildings, so any rebuild will address both issues.

"In fiscal terms it's quite cheap because the Government has the land already, so it's not like building a new school, but they're getting a completely new school in the heart of Auckland," Mr Milner said.

Discussions were still in the early stages, but feedback from the community was strong on not losing open and green spaces.

Building is also planned at Takapuna School after it doubled in size in six years to 400 children this year. The school has also asked to reinstate an enrolment scheme to help control numbers.

Milford School and Hauraki School are also near capacity.

Takapuna principal Cindy Walsh said nearly half of the current roll are from outside of the proposed zone, with many parents working in Takapuna township.

Special report: Future-proofing Auckland schools. Part one of a two-part series.
Tomorrow: Decile divide - why are many schools in poorer communities shrinking?

- NZ Herald

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