Most principals would be pleased to see builders pulling up outside the gate, but Fraser Smith is getting much more than a bit of an upgrade or a few new classrooms. He's getting a whole new school.

The ministry was replacing "like with like", he said, albeit with the addition of a school hall, which was a first. By the end of the year there would be seven new classrooms, a registered kitchen and eating area, a new administration block, staff room, toilets, showers, a library and a resource room.

A growing roll had played a key part in the ministry's decision to rebuild, he said. The roll had almost trebled, from 60 to 170, within four years, at which point the ministry decided the school was big enough, and ordered that an enrolment zone be put in place.
"That worked too well," Mr Smith said.

"The roll dropped by 50, so we're not using the zone any more. The roll is now 120, and the board of trustees has set the limit at 180.

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"And we're growing rapidly. We've had 15 new entrants in the last three months." (He said elders in the community could remember when there was one teacher and 12 pupils.)

Part of the attraction, he believed, was the school's philosophy of "Ōtūrutanga".

"We're strong on who we are as a school. We're connecting kids to the land through the environment. We've got hot houses, bees, chooks, fruit trees, an olive grove, and we're making all sorts of stuff, from soap and kawakawa balm to olive oil and honey.

"The kids are learning to make products and to sell them, so they're learning all sorts of entrepreneurial skills. And they're learning to read and write too."

Construction was due to be completed by December, with the existing school to be "smoked" over the summer holidays, before landscaping, including the creation of new playing fields.

Meanwhile, builders were "swarming all over the site like bees over honeycomb", Mr Smith said.

"The insides are lined with the colours we chose, and the classrooms are much bigger than the ones we are in now. Still to come are the pool changing sheds and caretaker's shed, water tanks and a new septic system and soakage area.

"The rooms are all double-glazed, well lined and insulated, with walls more than 30cm thick. Footings for extensive veranda areas are being put in.

"One challenge we will face is the lack of walls between classrooms," he added.

"This is the new Ministry of Education style of building. It has had a few different names — modern learning environment, innovative learning environment. The challenge is about how we teach in this shared space. Teachers and students will have the opportunity to move between learning areas, and we want (the community) to work with this to help us tune the learning to suit individual needs.

"There will be more space and greater opportunities to extend our learning experiences."