New Zealand / Education

Rolleston College not consulted on 'completely inappropriate' redesign of major project

16:45 pm on 4 March 2024

The additions to Rolleston College were due to start later this year but have been delayed until 2026, the school says. Photo: Rolleston College

A college principal says she is horrified at what has happened to her school's building project - even though it is supposedly a top priority.

Rolleston College agreed in December to new classrooms, a tech block and gym at its senior campus west of Christchurch.

But tumuaki Rachel Skelton said that was now being cut back, even though officials told her the school was the number one priority.

"I'm horrified - if that is what the top priority school is given, I'm really concerned about what other schools are being offered," she said on Monday.

Darren Sudlow said his son, in year 11, "won't make it to that new build at all, from what I can see."

A two-year delay already to expanding the main campus - the expansion opens in July - had already caused overcrowding, he said.

"It's not an ideal environment going forward at all."

The main campus was originally a public-private partnership, "an exciting build", but now space was under threat.

"The government has lots of rhetoric around improving educational outcomes. How can you do that if the learning environments, the physical environments, are not fit for purpose?

"You can't just cut it back from what was planned, although this seems to be happening all over the place."

The ministry is reviewing 350 new school builds and renovations after the government slammed it for under-delivering amid cost over-runs.

Skelton said the ministry told her last Thursday this review would not impact her college's big build.

However, she also learned it had "chosen to strip back, redesign, and delay the new campus", with a two-year delay till 2026 to even start a build meant to start in mid-2024, and drastic plan changes, she said.

Instead of classrooms, the new plan was for "makeshift portacom buildings indefinitely", with no purpose-built fit-outs, a school statement said.

The science and tech block would undergo minimal alterations, but a gym redesign eliminated all classroom space, and space for nurses and counsellors and a staffroom.

"The presented plan means the campus cannot function as a school and is completely inappropriate."

Rachel Skelton says the college's building plans have been stripped back. Photo: Rolleston College

The ministry had costed the stripped-back plan at $52 million - and told her they would need to find further savings on top of that, Skelton said.

The school was not consulted on the revised plan - it was presented as a done deal, she said.

"We're just absolutely baffled, we're devastated."

The plan agreed in December was to cater for years 11-13 in a senior campus 2.5km from the main campus, envisaging roll growth to 2100 senior students, in the fast-growing Selwyn district, which was about to add a tenth primary as a feeder for Rolleston College.

The site works were already done, and billboards had gone up promoting what had been a three-stage build.

"They said categorically there was no appetite or commitment to continuing with stages two and three."

But the ministry said growth in the area was high and "additional capacity... further stages of development will continue to grow the campus over time as the college roll grows".

For now, though it had reduced the scope of the first stage of the build to "reflect what is needed when the campus opens".

Stage one would include a 24-classroom science-and-tech block, a single-court gymnasium and 12 temporary classrooms.

The college had raised issues and they were continuing to work with it, said head of property Sam Fowler in a statement.

The second senior campus was a priority under the National Education Growth Plan, but ensuring investments met the needs countrywide "can mean the staging of new schools with a plan to expand over time, or the opening of schools in temporary facilities while permanent facilities are planned and delivered".

The school is asking senior government ministers to visit to hear their plea.

In the meantime, Auckland Girls' Grammar School had believed it was poised to get a new gym, but now worries it will not.

Its gym has been described as "sliding" down a slope since incurring storm damage.

"We have a cohort of Year 13 students who have never accessed their PE/Health curriculum through a gymnasium facility as the gym has been closed because it has been unsafe all of their time," principal Ngaire Ashmore said.

"We thought we were just about over the line with with progress and money to fund the remediation process but the funds have come up short.

"We are hoping (fingers crossed) that the MOE will approve the extra funding needed to reinstate the gymnasium."