Libraries – a traditional cornerstone of most New Zealand schools – are coming under pressure amid soaring school rolls and the need for more classroom space.
Nowhere more so than the booming suburb of Pāpāmoa.
Golden Sands School in Pāpāmoa East, with a roll of almost 620 children, is the latest primary school to transform its library into a classroom.
The school expects to finish the year with more than 660 students. Its previously projected October roll was 559.
Read more: Opinion: Leave the school library alone
In a newsletter last week, principal Melanie Taylor reassured parents the library was not being closed, but moved to a smaller space, likely until the end of the year.
She said rather than start classes in existing spaces, which would mean overcrowding, the school had chosen to use the library for the remaining start-up new entrant classes.
A building project set to begin by the end of the year will provide seven new classroom equivalents and a redesigned office space. It will cater for a roll of up to 720.
Te Akau Ki Pāpāmoa School does not have a library.
Principal Bruce Jepsen said all books are off the shelves and in storage.
Six years ago the school turned its purpose-built library building into a classroom.
A second converted library was also eventually taken over and, with nowhere else to put it, the school is coming up with an innovative solution.
Bespoke furniture is being made to mobilise the library – to a classroom, under a tree on the field, or both at the same time.
Jepsen said Te Akau Ki Pāpāmoa values print-rich environments and books, and it values the library as a resource to support teaching, learning and researching.
"However, when you are short of space, you need space to teach children.
"Libraries do play an important role in schools … I would say that every school probably sees value in a library. However, with the current roll growth and the lack of speed at which property is administered through the Ministry of Education, it puts us in these dilemmas – principals having to make decisions where really we have no choice."
He said his school has 660 students and is pre-enrolled for up to 700 this year. The roll has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
Jepsen said his school community was accepting of change.
"But going back six years ago, certainly there were a lot of questions being asked by the community, rightly so. It became really clear that the community values the library."
Western Bay of Plenty Principals' Association chairman Matthew Skilton, also principal of Tahatai Coast School in Pāpāmoa, said principals and school boards do not take that kind of decision lightly – to operate a library as a classroom.
However, new entrants coming into a school needed a warm, safe and inviting environment.
"So libraries are your next best friend as far as classroom space goes."
Skilton said his school still had a purpose-built library facility, "but we are also running out of space as the year progresses and it could be looking likely that the library space could be used".
Tahatai Coast School has 70 more students than it had a year and a half ago.
Skilton did not know exactly how many local schools have had to do turn libraries into classrooms but said there would be quite a few in the Tauranga region because nearly all of them are experiencing roll growth of some kind.
The Bay of Plenty Times has reported several cases of local schools using their libraries as classrooms at different times over the past few years, including Greerton Village, Pillans Point, Te Puke Primary and Omanu schools and Te Kura o Matapihi.
The Ministry of Education's Katrina Casey said non-traditional teaching spaces such as libraries, halls and multi-purpose rooms are commonly used to accommodate students temporarily during building projects, periods of high roll numbers or to allow for flexible teaching arrangements.
She said boards of trustees make decisions about how space is used within a school.
Casey said the ministry is working with the three local councils, the transport agency and the district health board on population growth planning.
A new primary school (Taumata School) is opening in Pyes Pa in term one next year, and sites for additional schooling in Tauranga, which is projected to be required in and around Ōhauiti, Tauriko West/Pyes Pa, Pāpāmoa East and Ōmokoroa, is in progress.
"Increases in demand are also being managed through enrolment schemes and the provision of extra classrooms."
Casey said in Budgets 2016 and 2017, about $14m was allocated to provide about 600 spaces at existing schools in Tauranga. Funding has also been secured to build two new schools.
The value of school libraries, according to a mum and teacher
Pāpāmoa mum Meghan Goslett says a school library is vital in today's technology-driven world "where children have shorter and shorter attention spans and spend too long staring at a screen".
Her 6-year-old son Blake, who is in Year 1 at Golden Sands School, looks forward to his library lesson every week.
It is a change of scenery and is a chance to exercise some independence by choosing a book to bring home.
"For young children, stories and books foster a love for learning which we need to encourage to fight the apathy we see too often in high school learners," Goslett said.
She would know. She is a high school English teacher.
Goslett said an education focused on a screen does nothing to develop an imagination, "all the creativity is done for the child and they are presented with a constant barrage of images".
"Books allow children to create their own imaginary world."
Goslett said she feels for Golden Sands and has no doubt the school is doing everything it can "in a bad situation".
She said the school should not be put in this position in the first place and expecting it to carry the burden and make a plan is "simply not good enough".