By Libby Kirkby-McLeod of RNZ
A Hamilton community feels bitterly betrayed about two schools being closed, only to be reopened on the same site, with the same facilities - but with a new name.
Hamilton’s Melville High junior prizegiving marked the school’s last day. The high school and Melville Intermediate are closing after 60 years and will be officially replaced next year by Mangakootukutuku College.
The roll at Melville High School slumped years ago but growth is on the cards with new subdivisions in Hamilton’s southwest.
Principal Clive Hamill said in 2019, his school, along with Melville Intermediate, and the Ministry of Education, started exploring ways to get ready. They did not reach an agreement.
“The board came to the decision that a merged school was appropriate and the minister came to the decision to close both schools.”
This means that all staff at both school have lost their jobs and all students have to re-enroll. Hamill said closing the school was not what the community wanted.
“We had an impressive mandate to make that recommendation - 89 per cent of families endorsed the merger option.”
However last year, then-education minister Chris Hipkins said he was satisfied building a new school was in the best interests of southwest Hamilton.
It doesn’t appear to Hamill though that much building will happen in the new year 7-13 Mangakootukutuku College which will open on the old Melville High School site.
Hamill said he was at a meeting where the ministry promised $40 million of revitalisation funds which had not materialised.
“We’re bitterly disappointed about that. It is part of what we were wanting because we look to the northern Hamilton schools and they have facilities and resources that every school should have.”
Hamill said there was a clear equity problem.
In a statement to RNZ, Ministry of Education property head Sam Fowler said that funding for a major development of Mangakootukutuku College had not been allocated or approved, and the scope, value and timing of any investment in Mangakootukutuku College was yet to be determined.
“We’ll be working with the school board from early next year to develop the plan for the future of the college’s property. The ministry will seek funding when required to support that investment and this will be considered alongside the needs of other schools across the region and motu.”
Melville High School board presiding member Liz Willis, whose children have been through the school, spent last Friday with some former students.
“I felt quite privileged to be in that room listening to these young people and their memories. Melville may close and the name may change, but those kids will hold those memories forever.”
Thilo Govender has been appointed principal of the new college and was at the junior prizegiving. She said she was happy to be there and support students who would be at the new school in 2024.
However, not every student RNZ spoke to is planning to stick around.
“It’s pretty sad, I’m going to Fairfield College,” said one, while another said she would miss the teachers and her friends but was heading to Fraser High School.
A deputy head boy once told Hamill, “you can take the boy out of Melville but not Melville out of the boy”.