Children at a Rotorua school surrounded by emergency housing motels were looking forward to a new playground - instead, the money for it had to be spent on security fencing and cameras to keep them safe.
Now, their prayers for a new playground have been answered thanks to the generosity of a local businessman.
The Seventh-day Adventist School children held a special ceremony at the school this week to thank the businessman, who wanted to remain anonymous to the wider public, for his donation. They presented him with handwritten thank you cards and letters.
Principal Lanea Strickland said the businessman was at a resource consent hearing last year - which was deciding the future of 14 contracted emergency housing motels in Rotorua - when leaders from the Fenton St school spoke to its submission.
They begged for an end to emergency housing in the Fenton St area because of the devastating impacts it was having on their school.
These included items being left on the school’s grounds such as a used tampon, knives, booze bottles, condoms and human faeces. The school management revealed students and staff had been threatened and had abuse hurled at them, and children had been called racial slurs.
The grounds had also been broken into several times and vandalised. Fences, sheds, and roofs had been damaged or broken into, and thousands of dollars worth of security cameras smashed.
The children’s playground had, in the meantime, been condemned due to old age and they could no longer play on it.
The school proprietors had $70,000 for a new playground, but had to put it towards erecting electronic security fencing around the school and installing security cameras to keep the children safe.
Strickland said the businessman approached those speaking at the hearing afterwards and offered to pay for a new playground.
As the plans were being sorted, South Auckland’s Seventh-day Adventist School learned it had to remove its playground to make way for new buildings, and offered Rotorua’s school its playground.
The businessman instead paid for two weeks’ worth of labour and materials for a team to install the relocated playground.
He told the children at the ceremony they should not thank him but instead thank their school principal and Board of Trustees for having the “courage” to speak publicly about the impacts emergency housing was having on the school.
In his view, the authorities listened and today Rotorua was a “much better place than it was a year ago”.
The man also gave the children some advice about their futures.
“When you’re sitting in your classroom and you’re wondering what you’re doing there, just look over the fence (to the emergency housing motels) because if you don’t listen to your teachers and take notice of what they say and what your parents tell you, you’ll end up over there more likely than not. You’ve got an opportunity in your life to do something with your life.”
The man also told the children: “Enjoy your playground, be good people and make the most of what you’ve got in front of you.”
Principal Lanea Strickland said the children had prayed every week for a playground.
“This is an absolute answer to our prayers for our children ... To be able to do something like this for our school, I don’t think we will ever be able to repay you. Thank you very much for coming forward in our time of need.”
Proprietor of the New Zealand Seventh-day Adventist Schools Association Ltd property manager Roger Marshall said at the ceremony it was amazing timing with the South Auckland school having to remove its playground and kindly donating it to Rotorua free of charge, and they would be forever grateful.
He said the children had raised $6000 themselves from a fun run and that money went towards bark and protective platforms for the playground, so the children could walk on the bark and know they helped pay for it.
The Rotorua Seventh-day Adventist School was opened 70 years ago in February 1953 and is one of 16 Seventh-day Adventist state-integrated schools in New Zealand. It is Rotorua’s smallest school with just 31 pupils.
Two-year resource consents with tougher conditions were granted for 13 contracted emergency housing motels after the hearings.
It meant as of February 1, 2023, the 13 motels were legally bound to operate under the much stricter conditions. Among those were a heavy focus on better interaction with the community, a ban on dogs and the removal of motel signage.
Residents said last month the tougher rules were having a positive impact on the city, including on Fenton St.
The use of Rotorua motels for emergency housing has also reduced.
In February this year, there were 375 households in contracted and non-contracted emergency housing motels in Rotorua. In March last year, there were 708 households in motels.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that $6000 raised by the children for the new playground was put towards security fencing and cameras to keep them safe. In fact, school proprietors used $70,000 set aside for a new playground on security measures and the $6000 raised by the children was spent on the playground’s bark and protective platforms.