27 Feb 2024

Education Ministry does U-turn on school co-location project after spending $24m

7:39 pm on 27 February 2024
Marlborough Boys' High School

Marlborough Boys' High Schhol is one of the schools affected. Photo: Marlborough Boys' High School

The Ministry of Education says it invested about $24.5 million into a co-location project before it was scrapped over ballooning costs.

Education Minister Erica Stanford recently informed the schools that Te Tātoru o Wairau - the project to co-locate Marlborough Boys' and Girls' colleges on one site and relocate Bohally Intermediate School, would no longer go ahead after its estimated cost grew from $170m to $405m.

She said it was concerning that the project was nearly $200m more than originally forecast and that funding had not been secured - a reflection of a school property system "bordering on crisis".

National Party MP Erica Stanford asking questions in Select Committee during the 2023 Estimates Hearings.

Education Minister Erica Stanford Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

Stanford announced on Monday that a ministerial inquiry would be undertaken to address problems with the school property system where the scope of planned property works was unrealistic and unaffordable.

Ministry of Education head of property Sam Fowler said the $24.5m already spent on the project included the purchase of five residential properties to enable the development at a cost of $4m and $4.5m to build a new hockey turf at Marlborough Girls' College.

The ministry was now working to fast-track urgent property priorities at each of the three schools rather than progress with a co-located campus.

Marlborough Boys' College principal John Kendal said the decision was highly disappointing, but not entirely surprising given the issues and disruptions the project had faced over the past eight years.

"There was a range of emotions ... some staff never wanted to leave our current beautiful site, others were really invested in the project and had spent a huge amount of time preparing for the co-location."

He said the school would work over the next four to six weeks to finalise a list of the areas in need of urgent upgrades.

"We've got a lot of buildings that are well past their life span and we have been given a list to work through and we have shared that with the staff."

It included the technology block, a building from the Royal New Zealand Air Force Base at Woodbourne that had been repurposed into classrooms.

"Our library is well past its life expectancy in terms of the roof ... our arts block is well overdue for a major renovation and overhaul - there are probably three or four key buildings that need upgrading."

Marlborough Girls' College principal Mary-Jeanne Lynch said the project was put on pause in December, before it was officially announced last week that it had come to an end and while she understood the rationale, it was disappointing.

"It is a lot of money ... and there are a lot of people that have worked incredibly hard on this project over the last six to ten years and our community is really disappointed as well, including parents who've got wee ones in primary and intermediate schools."

The project was first announced in 2015 by then education minister Hekia Parata and tipped at the time to cost about $63 million.

In late 2018, it was announced Bohally Intermediate would be relocated and rebuilt on the current Marlborough Boys' College site after an extensive search to find an alternative green-field site - the preferred option of both colleges and the community - was unsuccessful.

Lynch joined Marlborough Girls' College in 2018 and said there had been a significant amount of work done on the project since then.

The school had held off on doing any extensive redevelopment or refurbishment as it had been waiting for a new facility.

"The reality is it costs an awful lot to build schools that are fit for purpose and designed to enable and enhance future-focused education, which is really different from the type of learning I did 30 or 40 years ago.

"We want a world-class education system here for our beautiful rangatahi in New Zealand, but it costs money."

Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Rārua pouwhakahaere Shane Graham said the project - which was heralded as a great success by Parata - would have been transformative for the community.

He said the decision to end it was disappointing after years of collaborative effort on the project led to many positive gains and the apparent disregard for tikanga within the decision-making framework - detracted from the potential to enact meaningful change.

Graham said iwi would continue to collaborate with the Ministry of Education and other partners to improve kura in the region.

"I call upon our MPs, including the Te Tai Tonga MP, to champion our collective voice and convey our disappointment to Education Minister Erica Stanford and her colleagues, advocating for a future where our voices are not only heard but heeded."

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