Pirongia School began the new year with an event to open an innovative new four-classroom block which marked the culmination of three years planning and work.

At the beginning of 2018 the school added one new classroom, but that wasn't enough to cope with the current roll, let alone predicted growth.

And Principal Jan Cullen and Board of Trustees chairman Wayne Carter said if they followed Ministry of Education guidelines they would still be struggling to accomodate the students.

New Pirongia School classroom block matches the style of the established school buildings. Photo / Dean Taylor
New Pirongia School classroom block matches the style of the established school buildings. Photo / Dean Taylor

Instead they applied clever thinking, then convinced the ministry it was the right solution.
Jan said the new block has already made an amazing difference for the school.

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"We had been using every available space as a classroom — even my office," she said.

To open the new block the school held a pōwhiri, followed by the official ceremony conducted by Taranaki-King Country MP Barbara Kuriger and Waipā Mayor Jim Mylchreest.

Wayne said it was an exciting time for students to start the year in a new classroom.

He said it was four years ago that he and Jan started having conversations about the likely growth of the school as Pirongia Village expanded and welcomed more residents.

"Three years ago the Board of Trustees began actively consulting with our community about priorities they had for the school as it grows," he said.

"One of their most pressing priorities was for us to retain our green space."

He said they were a country school with kids who enjoy playing outside, and a facility that hosted a number of school and community events so it was important to retain as much space as possible.

The Board commissioned architect and project manager Matt Whitmarsh to develop the property plan to enable the school to best meet property needs.

Two years of negotiation with the Ministry of Education followed to agree on funding, facilities and placement.

Wayne says two people from the ministry warranted acknowledgement.

He said infrastructure manger Sharon Walker faced pressure from ministry policy to insist that the school accept the modular buildings, once funding for three extra classrooms had been approved.

"Unfortunately the modular classrooms take up considerably more space than a purpose-built block and this would have compromised our green space," he said.

"They were also more expensive and there would have been delays in getting those on-site.

"After robust discussions, Sharon supported our plan."

He said Steven Hawley from the ministry's capital works team used his discretion and made decisions were always in the best interests of the school.

"We found him excellent to work with," said Wayne.

The ministry funded three classrooms and the board added its own money to construct a four-classroom block, as well as create a break-out space that helped future-proof the school.

A playground was relocated and another play space for senior students is being developed.

One of the rooms is being used as a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) room.

Jan said it is fantastic for the students, especially the seniors who are excited about their new learning spaces.

The school thanked Livingstone for the quality facility they have constructed.

"Livingstone has a history of doing excellent work in schools and they are always good to work with."

Wayne said it isn't an easy task to work around lots of busy and excited children, but health and safety is a priority for Livingstone so the project went without hitch.

He added that it was exciting for students to see the building progress and it may have even inspired some children into the construction industry.

The school made its final thanks to project manager Matt.

"He listened to our needs early in the process and he was able to contribute innovative ideas," said Wayne.

"With his help and his plan, we were able to bring the project to fruition."

Wayne also commented on Bali Haque's Tomorrow's Schools Independent Taskforce and their recommendation to abolish Boards of Trustees and to remove the property pressures from schools and principals.

He admitted this work is a time-consuming part of the job, which some argue takes principals away from leadership and learning.

"However, I believe the centralisation of school property, where decisions are made by bureaucrats would not be in the best interests of all schools," he said.

"The challenges and needs of all schools are unique and effective principals and boards know their school's needs, and when supported by the MOE, you get quality outcomes, like the building we are opening today," he said.

"This block is a modern, flexible learning environment and this process and model could well be the blueprint for other schools."