Schools still struggling to get prefabs replaced

By Jordan Bond / Stephanie Arthur-Worsop, news@dailypost.co.nz

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BUILDINGS: Rotorua Intermediate School principal Garry de Thierry. PHOTO/BEN FRASER
BUILDINGS: Rotorua Intermediate School principal Garry de Thierry. PHOTO/BEN FRASER

The value of building consents for Rotorua schools rose more than 50 per cent last year, but one school says it's still a long way from having the right environment to teach kids.

More than $5.7 million in education building consents were awarded in the city last year, an increase from $3.75 million in 2014.

Of its 30 available teaching spaces, Rotorua Intermediate School has eight relocatable classrooms, commonly known as prefabs, a far cry from the Ministry of Education's expectation of schools providing modern learning environments.

Principal Garry de Thierry said he wishes he could change the situation.

"Would I like to get rid of all the relocatables?

"Of course I would, every principal would. In the end it's what we've got," he said. "It's just the way it is."

Schools are expected to upgrade classrooms to become "flexible learning spaces", open plan learning areas of varying sizes to "encourage and support many different types of learning".

Schools must pay for these upgrades using their five yearly allocation, known as five year agreements.

Mr de Thierry said he had no idea when the school would be able to afford to get students into traditional classrooms, let alone modern environments.

"I would have a greater opportunity of telling you what the winning lottery numbers will be this weekend," he said.

The school is spending $700,000 on a new block with four classroom spaces, allowing two relocatables and two older classrooms to be vacated.

He said the comparison between teaching spaces - modern, traditional and relocatable - might concern parents who worry their children will be taught differently to others.

"You have to be careful if you get a new block built because it creates a visual contrast," Mr de Thierry said.

"Parents are coming through saying, 'wow, look at that modern learning environment' but then turning around and saying, 'is my child missing out because they're not in that block?'

"Some people will think good teaching will go on just because the building's new.

"Our school has to demonstrate the quality that goes on in all rooms. It's the teaching that matters, not so much the environment. I couldn't emphasise that enough."

Lynmore Primary School principal Lorraine Taylor said she believed many schools in Rotorua would be facing the same problem.

"The budget is very stretched and there are long queues to get funding to build so we're all just playing the waiting game.

"We have 18 prefab classrooms, all of which were built in the 60s and are still being used, even though they were meant to be temporary.

"They are at the end of their lives but there is no money to replace them."

In a written response, Ministry of Education spokesman Jerome Sheppard said the ministry expected to spend twice as much on school property this year as it did three years ago.

He said the ministry asked schools to prioritise property funding to make sure buildings were healthy and safe.

Mr Sheppard said the Government had allocated $300 million over the next six years to assist schools with "complex property issues" which can't be fixed from their regular budget.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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