These are exciting times at Heretaunga College, a co-educational secondary school with about 700 students in Wellington’s Upper Hutt. Construction work began in early 2011 to significantly upgrade it,
and some parts already completed have made a marked difference. Remodelling includes new technology labs, open teaching spaces, administration facilities, student cafe, commercial kitchen, cultural centre and landscaping. The total budget is $13 million.
The work is the outcome of years of no development and little maintenance while the Government debated whether to combine the two secondary and two intermediate schools in the area into one very large ‘super’ school.
When that proposal was abandoned, the schools all needed a great deal of work. Money was made available from the Ministry of Education and Opus Architecture won the contract to carry out architectural services for the refurbishment of Heretaunga College.
The school was then “in fairly poor condition,” says principal, Bruce Hart. “It was built in the 1950s and some parts had barely been touched in that time. We had very long, narrow, dark corridors that became quite congested during breaks. The classrooms were small and rather inflexible, so they could only be used in a traditional way.”
Involvement with Heretaunga College started for Opus Architecture in 2008, under the leadership of project architect, Bruce Curtain. “We were asked to tender for the redevelopment and were successful, largely because of our experience at Porirua College, which helped our ability to rethink the way a school campus operates. Firstly, it was essential we developed a masterplan – a clear vision for the school and where it needed to head,” he said.
Over a period of 12 months, and working closely with a curriculum team from the school, Opus Architecture carried out extensive work on that masterplan. A key to progress was the combined team visiting a number of new or redeveloped Auckland schools over a two day period. “About 13 staff came from the school – quite a big commitment, but very valuable because the teachers could see in practice how the work spaces would be used,” Mr Curtain said.
“The school’s senior leadership and the curriculum team have been really fantastic – a delight to work with. Together, we refined the masterplan, focusing on the school’s thinking around centres of excellence – larger, more open shared learning areas – with the more traditional classrooms clustered around them.”
Construction started on stage one in January 2011. Octa Associates Ltd was appointed as project manager with Holmes Wellington Ltd the builder. Opus engineers also had responsibility for the structural, mechanical, electrical and civil infrastructure work.
Stage one has involved the refurbishment and extension of three of the teaching wings, the removal of one of them, an upgrade to the art and hospitality areas, including creating a commercial kitchen and a new computer suite. Also in development is what is referred to as ‘the spine,’ a new central concourse throughout the middle of the school to alleviate the problem of crowded corridors.
Opus Architecture’s challenge was to develop all this within the college’s existing series of 1954 Henderson style teaching blocks. “We’ve redeveloped three and demolished one, creating an external but enclosed, sheltered quad space that binds the school together,” said Bruce Curtain.
“We’ve had to create a 21st century environment in an operational school. The students and staff were still there. Part of the project involves rationalisation – removing excess classrooms. It’s been quite difficult for the school staff, but again, they’ve really come to the party with the contractor and ourselves.”
He says good groundwork has enabled the work to run smoothly. “Octa Associates has been a very strong project manager. They’d done a lot of pre-planning which put the project in good stead. We’ve hit all the projected milestones, so it’s all been going very well.”
Relieving ‘the crush’
Improvements include beginning to relieve ‘the crush’ – a two-metre wide corridor that 700 students had to pass through at breaks. That is now being opened up by ‘the spine’ – a semi-enclosed area, nearly seven metres wide, extending right through the school and linking the buildings. It includes the student canteen and helps form a significant community space. Mr Curtain says although it is only partially completed, it has brought a noticeable improvement already. “It has lots of activity, daylight and height – just a good place to hang out. We’re hoping it’ll make the school a much more cohesive community.”
And with the first part of Phase One – the science block now handed over, he says reaction to the work so far could hardly have been better.
“Feedback from the staff and students has been just extraordinary – they’re just blown away. It’s really gratifying for us to see the students so motivated and enjoying their learning. It makes us feel as though we’re making a difference.”
The school principal, Bruce Hart, agrees. “We couldn’t be happier really, we’re just delighted. It’s all proceeded on time and that’s pretty critical when you’re running a school. The result is just wonderful – a real transformation.
“Opus Architecture has been great. They brought good ideas to the table and worked hard to put our particular vision into place.”
Redevelopment of the college will be completed this year.