The purchase of the former Turakina Māori Girls' College offers endless possibilities and is really exciting for Ngā Wairiki Ngāti Apa, tumu whakarae Pahia Turia says.

The keys were handed over to the Rangitikei iwi in a ceremony filmed by Māori TV on March 16. About 40 people were there for the occasion. Settlement day is April 6, and there will be a formal opening in May.

Ngā Wairiki Ngāti Apa intend to move their health and social services entity, Te Kotuku Hauora, and their tribal headquarters, to the former school.

It's a big place - more than 5ha of land, some of it bare, with houses, classrooms, a boarding hostel, a church and sports facilities catering for 130 students. There will be room for other users, Mr Turia said.

Advertisement

Tertiary education providers, industry training organisations and trade training organisations have expressed an interest in sharing it.

"We have got to find something that will contribute to our strategic direction. We are really keen to look at something that's going to grow ourselves, as well as wider Marton and the Rangitikei area," he said.

Some fitting out will be done before the iwi's two entities move in. Consideration will be given to the needs of other users when space is allocated.

The college was established as a boarding school for Māori girls in 1905, and moved to Marton in 1927. It was closed, amid protest, in January 2016. By that time its roll had dropped to 47.

The former Turakina Māori Girls' College is 5ha, with many buildings and sports facilities. Photo/ supplied
The former Turakina Māori Girls' College is 5ha, with many buildings and sports facilities. Photo/ supplied

The Presbyterian Church passed ownership to the Turakina Ngā Hara Trust, which initially thought to keep the school. Then it was put up for tender on Trade Me, with a rateable value of $4.7 million and tenders closing on March 8.

Ngā Wairiki Ngāti Apa was interested in it from the start. Mr Turia wouldn't say how much it paid for the property, except that the trust gave "very favourable terms".

The trust was worried the school's church would be moved and its carvings taken away if it was sold, and that former students would no longer be able to visit. One tenderer was a developer, who proposed to remove the church and carvings and close the gates.

With Ngā Wairiki Ngāti Apa those taonga will stay, and a special place will be made for them on the property.

"The facility is going to be open for [old girls] to go and visit at any time," Mr Turia said.

One of the treasures passed to the iwi is a korowai (cloak) made of kiwi feathers. The school bought it from Whanganui Regional Museum in the 1930s, and it was worn by principals.

If the iwi finds it has a significant family history it may be returned to its former owners.