A new kind of skyscraper could soon tower above Auckland - schools.

Auckland's booming population is expected to increase by up to one million in 30 years and may be spawning a new type of urban school, those with high-rise classrooms and no sports fields.

The number of people living in the city's central district alone is rising fast. Already at 40,000 (including 2,000 school-age children), it is forcing a re-think on where space for the tens of thousands of extra students expected in the future will come from.

The government - which is to pump $240m to build four new schools in Auckland as part of its strategy to create 21,000 extra students places by 2021 - has already canvassed the idea of schools of the future leasing land and using community facilities for sport and other extra-curricular activities.


One leading Auckland educationalist, Tracey Dykstra, principal of ACG Senior College in downtown Auckland has joined the debate. She believes the creation of university-style high-rise schools similar to her own could provide a solution.

Limited availability of green space in the central city means building new schools with normal facilities like playing fields will become hugely expensive and Dykstra thinks high-rise is the way of the future.

"It's not unusual overseas," she says. "There are schools like this in places like Singapore and Hong Kong and it's also happening in Australia. The challenge will be to find and fit out buildings for this purpose."

ACG Senior College opened in 1995 and is located in a four-storey building in Lorne St near the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) and University of Auckland campuses in the heart of the city .

It is one of two ACG schools - the other is ACG Parnell College - considered examples of the kind of urban schools the government is talking about. Both operate without school grounds and sports fields, instead utilising community and other nearby facilities.

The concept is not new in other parts of the world. In Australia, the New South Wales state government is faced with having to find an extra 164,000 public school places by 2031 and has recently announced plans to build five high-rise schools in greater Sydney.

The state's education minister Rob Stokes says most new schools will involve multi-storey buildings: "Where land is constrained we'll have to look at going up," he says.

The first of these five, the Arthur Phillip High School in Parramatta, will soar to 17 storeys. Work on the $225m project is underway and the school is expected to open in 2019; while another is to be built in the inner Sydney suburb of Surrey Hills and will rise to 14 storeys when open in 2020.

The principal of ACG Parnell College Russell Brooke says his school community is used to the urban concept: "Our students are renowned for doing well in all aspects of their lives, they thrive when with smiles on their faces they move on to universities around the world; urban schools are a sign New Zealand is evolving."

Brooke says the school, which has a roll of 925 and caters for students from year one to year 13, is located in two buildings, one rising to four storeys (and two basement levels) and the other to three storeys.

It has a gym but no sports fields. Despite this, it has a high level of student participation in a number of sports including basketball, netball, cricket, cycling, badminton and swimming.

Teams use local community facilities for training and playing - the swimmers, for example, use the Olympic Pools and Fitness Centre at nearby Newmarket - while many play sports for club teams during the weekends.

"There is an exciting urban buzz about the school," says Brooke. "We've got bus and train hubs nearby making it easy for students to get to and from school; by being in one building it is warm, dry and safe; and we've got the Auckland Domain across the road which the students use for open space."

Brooke says because it is no longer possible to buy land in the inner city, an urban school is an "educationally-rich solution" to the problem.

Dykstra says ACG Senior College helps prepare students for university and other tertiary study. "They can experience a university-like environment before they get there but in a supportive and challenging way; at the same time they get opportunities to take part in many student-led cultural and sporting activities.

"This is all part of helping them with self-management and preparing them for life after school and allows them to tap into the wealth of cultural and social opportunities in the city such as art galleries and lectures and libraries at AUT and Auckland University."

ACG Education, an independent school group, offers choice with three other traditional greenfields schools in New Zealand.