24 Mar 2015

School closure plan for safety, says Parata

5:52 am on 24 March 2015

Education Minister Hekia Parata is insisting a proposal to close Christchurch's Redcliffs Primary School is not a cost cutting measure.

Education Minister Hekia Parata

Education Minister Hekia Parata Photo: SUPPLIED

An aftershock in June 2011 collapsed part of a large cliff behind the school and since then its 200 students have been sharing classrooms at an education centre for the deaf in the neighbouring suburb of Sumner.

If the closure went ahead, it would be the 11th primary or intermediate school to be merged or closed in Christchurch since the earthquakes.

Earthquake damage has been one of the reasons given by the Minister of Education Hekia Parata in many of these closures and has again been identified in the case of Redcliffs.

Ms Parata said while building an embankment would prevent any further rockfall from the cliff reaching the school, this would not be enough to assure her it was safe.

"Because there is also clear indications there will be further rock falls, we don't know whether periodically in the future we would have to move the school again to make further assessments.

"So on that information, we were unable to give families assurance there will be uninterrupted education on this site."

Ms Parata denied closing the school was about saving money and said the cost of keeping it in Redcliffs as opposed to accommodating its 200 pupils at neighbouring schools was about the same.

"The schools that are close to Redcliffs are Mount Pleasant, Sumner, Bamford, Heathcote.

"There are a range of local schools that provide options. But it's too early in this process whether one or the other or some might be options."

The chairperson of the school's board of trustees, Craig Jones, said he was shocked by the proposal.

Redcliffs School Board of Trustees Chairman Craig Jones

Redcliffs School Board of Trustees Chairman Craig Jones at yesterday's press conference in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

He said part of the case they put to the minister for being allowed to stay was that surrounding schools would struggle to absorb their pupils.

He added that experts they hired said the site was safe and that a school was needed in Redcliffs.

"All the people on the board have children at the school so we've considered other locations and ultimately we kept coming back to this, both in terms of the safety, the housing stock in the area and the demand for a school, a viable school.

"And we thought we were only going to get one decision today and it was only going to be positive."

Kirsten Cruickshank's two sons attend Redcliffs School and was upset to hear it might close.

"This is part of our community, it's been great this school, it's a fabulous school. I think it would be devastating. We've lost so much in Redcliffs. To lose the school is just huge."

Kristi Beer also has two sons at the school and said the proposal was absurd given how fast the school's roll was growing.

"My son is a new entrant and it's the largest class in the school so obviously the enrollment is increasing, not decreasing. They expected 18 kids in the class and it popped out there was 31, so they had to readjust."

Ms Beer said Redcliffs had already lost its kindergarten and to lose the school as well would be heartbreaking.

"It's just slowly that community sense is dying. You know and I, to be honest, if that school didn't go back, I'd pick up and move to Sumner, because this community, it's not thriving, and it's going to hurt all the residents, property, everything. It's the heart of the community."

Consultation with the school and the Redcliffs community will continue until May and a final decision is due in August.

If the closure goes ahead it will take effect from July next year.