Supporters of Anglican and Catholic schools are eyeing the $58 million site of Auckland's defunct Hato Petera College for a possible dual-denominational Christian Māori boarding school.
Education Minister Chris Hipkins is expected to confirm in the next few days that he will cancel the troubled school's integration agreement, signalling its closure after its roll shrank to just five students.
The Catholic Church, which was granted the prime 12ha Northcote site for educational purposes in 1850, says the closure "would enable the facilities to be used by an alternative education provider".
Neighbouring AUT University and the Vanguard Military School are seen as potentially interested in the land, or the church may build a mainstream Catholic school there to cope with population growth that can't be accommodated at its nearby St Joseph's Primary School and Rosmini and Carmel colleges.
But former Hato Petera board of trustees chairman Norman McKenzie said Auckland Catholic Bishop Pat Dunn had told him many times that his first preference was to keep using the land for Māori education.
McKenzie and a former chairman of the trust that ran the Hato Petera boarding hostel, Terry Dunleavy, have proposed bringing Anglican as well as Catholic Māori students on to the Northcote site to create a more viable joint school.
The Anglican Church closed its Māori boarding schools St Stephen's, a boys' school at Bombay, and Queen Victoria, a girls' school in Parnell, in 2000 and 2001.
Both sites are still owned by the St Stephen's and Queen Victoria (SSQV) Schools Trust Board with assets valued last September at $72.1m. The Parnell site alone at 27 Glanville Terrace is valued at $50m and is being used as an early childhood centre, but at only 1.4ha it lacks Hato Petera's expansive playing fields.
SSQV board chairman Bernard Te Paa said he and Dunleavy would meet soon to discuss whether a joint Anglican and Catholic Māori boarding school would be viable.
Te Paa, a St Stephen's old boy, sent his own sons to Hato Petera after St Stephen's closed, and said: "Anything is possible in this new age."
"The question is going to be around the will of the various parties to be able to work together," he said.
He said his board had been working towards opening a coeducational Anglican Māori boarding school in Auckland in 2020, and was open to making it a joint school with the Catholics at Northcote.
"The good thing with the Northcote site is it's a pretty central site, in an urban area, but it also has its negatives in terms of lack of privacy," he said.
Te Paa said a new boarding school would need at least 350 students to be viable.
McKenzie said a joint Catholic and Anglican school could attract 500 Māori students.
Ngāti Paoa Iwi chairman Gary Thompson, a former Hato Petera house parent whose iwi sold the land to Governor George Grey before Grey gave it to the Church, said he supported a dual-denominational Māori school.
Vanguard, a charter school for Years 11 to 13 now based at Albany, is also believed to have talked to the church about moving to the Northcote site. Hipkins approved its expansion to a full Years 9 to 13 state secondary school in May and said it would need a new site.
Vanguard chief executive Nick Hyde said the school would stay on its present site in 2019 and decisions on its future site would be made by the Ministry of Education.
AUT declined to comment on its potential interest in the site and the Catholic Church said no decisions would be made until Hipkins decided to close the existing college.
Hipkins said Hato Petera commissioner Lex Hamill had reported back on an interim decision to cancel the college's integration agreement, but he was waiting for more information from the ministry this week.
"After considering all information, I will make a final decision on the possible cancellation of the integration agreement."