Tauhara College in Taupō will close for the rest of the school year after its 42-year-old prefab classrooms were so badly damaged by a downpour on Wednesday that they cannot be entered.
Tauhara College is the smaller of two colleges in Taupō, with a roll of 645 as at July 1, and was established in the 1970s with a set of temporary prefab classrooms.
Some 42 years later those prefabs are still in place and it's an increasingly uphill battle keeping them weathertight and fit for use. Leaks in corridors and classrooms are not unusual.
The college has been working with the Ministry of Education for a few years to try to have its campus upgraded with a complete overhaul of the property but its business case for a rebuild is still with the Ministry awaiting a decision.
Its former principal said on leaving last year that it was obvious that the entire school needed rebuilding.
Only Year 9 and 10 students were still at the school this week and last, with NCEA exams under way for senior students. The exams are still continuing in the school's hall, which is unaffected.
The news is a blow for junior students, who were looking forward to end-of-year camps, trips and activities next week, most of which have already been paid for. Junior prizegiving has been cancelled. Staff also say on the college's Facebook page that they are devastated, with a huge job ahead.
Students cannot enter the school to retrieve their belongings or clear their lockers until engineers have assessed the buildings and declared them safe.
During yesterday's downpour at 2.30pm, rain poured in through the joins in the roof, students were evacuated from ageing classrooms and the electricity had to be isolated as staff scrambled to cope with the effects of the deluge.
The college was closed today, with an Education Ministry response team arriving last night to assess the damage. Two classroom blocks were completely closed and carpet cleaners were on site today with engineers being called in.
College principal Ben Hancock, who only took up the position at the beginning of the term, said in a letter to parents and whanau this evening that the school was working closely with the Ministry of Education to organise emergency repairs.
"Over the past two hours, I have been reviewing the state of the buildings with an engineer to start to understand the full extent of the damage. The buildings have sustained significant water damage, which is to be expected considering the intensity of rainfall experienced," Mr Hancock said.
"I'm not able to give you any more information at this stage but I will keep you updated as the work needed to reopen our school becomes clear.
"It's not the best way to end the year, but the support and fellowship of the school community will continue to sustain us."
Former principal Keith Buntting said in an exit interview at the end of 2019 that one year into his role as school principal it became obvious to him that the entire school needed pulling down and rebuilding.
Mr Buntting and the college's board of trustees spent three and a half years preparing a rebuilding application to the Ministry of Education, and hoped a Ministry of Education decision approving a full rebuild would be made before Christmas 2019.
Board of Trustees chair Julie Yeoman said today that the business case was still in the Ministry of Education's pipeline for a decision.
Meanwhile, Taupō's other college, Taupō-nui-a-Tia College, which had a roll of 1072 at July 1, had a new music block last year, a large new design and innovation block opened by Prime Minister John Key in 2012, a gymnasium extension and several new classrooms, with a new five-classroom block being built in 2021.
Principal Ben Hancock said yesterday afternoon's downpour arrived just as the school was finishing for the day.
"We kept the kids safe, we moved them out as fast as we could, we isolated the power and got everyone off-site.
"We got hold of the Ministry of Education and sent them the videos and started the clean up."
Parent Adrian Armstrong, who has a son at Tauhara College, says the school buildings are old and cannot cope with the weather and have been in need of repair or upgrading for quite a while.
He says as a parent looking at the situation, it is frustrating that Tauhara College appears to receive almost zero funding to even upgrade its current facilities, while Taupō-nui-a-Tia College has been building entire new blocks.
Mr Armstrong says facilities aside, Tauhara College provides an excellent education.
"My son has grown as a student while being there and he truly wants to be there learning. Online learning can fill a gap, but it will not replace what he needs from face to face teaching."
The Ministry of Education's head of education infrastructure service, Kim Shannon said the Ministry had people on-site at Tauhara College today to assess the damage and organise emergency repairs.
She said further work would be done at the college to fix roofing and cladding issues and deliver bathroom upgrades. The Ministry was also working with the school on a plan to fix its broader property challenges, Shannon said.
Weather statistics for Taupō yesterday show that in the 24 hours to 8am today, the town received 42mm of rain, or nearly half the normal monthly rainfall. Taupō weatherman Bevan Choat said between 2.30pm and 2.50pm, it was torrential, falling at the rate of 1mm per minute.