School property cuts in Rolleston spark national concern

Cut-backs on a school property development in Canterbury have raised concerns over the new national school property strategy.

Budget cuts for school expansions have sparked serious concerns, particularly at Rolleston College where new, pared-black plans have been deemed unworkable by Principal Rachael Skelton. 

Plans for the school’s expansion have been stripped back and delayed as a result of the Ministerial inquiry into the Ministry of Education’s property portfolio. Although Rolleston College was deemed one of the Ministry’s “high priority” projects, the school community is rallying against the changes as they don’t believe the altered plan will meet growing need. 

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In just eight years, the Canterbury school has grown from 225 students to 1800, with the roll expected to double again in the near future. Rolleston itself is a rapidly growing town reports Newshub, with primary schools of the region seeing similarly booming growth, driving concern over the decision to reduce planned upgrades. 

Construction on Rolleston College’s current campus, which is set to be finished by 2025, is expected to bring the school up to capacity for its current roll of 1800 students. 

Plans for a second, senior campus two kilometres away from the current facility was originally planned to have a capacity of up to 2100, “future-proofing” the school, says Skelton. Now, the Ministry of Education has reduced the planned capacity of the second site to just 650 additional students by 2026.  

The reduced plan saw the gymnasium and sports fields halved, and core services like counsellors offices and pastoral care and a staff room eliminated. 

Plans for Rolleston College’s second campus have now been drastically reduced, including sports field areas. Photo by Jacky Watt on Unsplash.

The new plan also involves the use of 12 – 16 “temporary” re-purposed buildings. The current Rolleston College campus has 21 of these temporary classrooms, which Skelton says sometimes makes learning more difficult as they were not always fit for purpose and were situated on green spaces, carparks and sports facilities.  

Skelton describes the plan as unworkable, saying “it doesn’t represent a functional school.”  

“Things like counselling offices, dean’s area, again—things that you’d expect to see in any large high school. 

“I don’t think setting up a new school without the essential facilities that you would find in any secondary school in New Zealand is the way to go. 

“I really implore the government to think about where are other ways that you could save money that don’t directly affect children. There’s got to be other places where money can be saved rather than things that interfere with kids. 

“The Ministry of Education has talked about Rolleston College senior campus as the number one priority school—if that is the provision for the number one priority school, I worry about other schools.”  

Parent Paul Taylor said “Everything in the plans is what they need. It’s not something flash… it’s what they need.”  

At a community meeting held mid-March, Rolleston College head girl Mackenzie Wills told a Ministry representative of the impact the school’s swelling roll had on her education.  

“I have experienced sitting in hallways, learning in science classes for classes that are not science. I have experienced so much overcrowding—being put in small, confined spaces with 60 learners… I have a younger brother and younger cousins who are intending to come to Rolleston College and it makes me mad that it’s going to affect them in such a negative way,” said Wills.  

Over 2000 signatories have signed a petition opposing the announcement that planned upgrades were being scaled back, and over 100 letters have been received by Rolleston College regarding the decision. 

The Ministry of Education’s head of property Sam Fowler said that the cuts were due to funding. In a statement, Fowler responded that the Ministry was still investing $50 million into Rolleston College’s new campus.  

“We understand that the school and community is concerned that the project will be staged and some facilities will be temporary. We will continue to work with the college to refine the proposals in order that they support their educational and operational needs.  

“Further stages of development will continue to grow the campus over time as the college roll grows. The timing of the delivery of those stages will be subject to the funding we receive through future Budgets.”  

Naomii Seah

Naomii Seah is a writer and journalist from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand. She enjoys crochet, painting, and a coffee or two at the beach. Her work can be found at The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Stuff, and of course, School News NZ.
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