Battle for school brings Mahinawa

22:22, Jul 18 2011
SPECIAL SCHOOL: After years of petitioning about the poor state of her school buildings, Mahinawa Specialist School principal Fay Stanton got funding for her dream school. Pictured with her are students Joshua Gates, 20, and Stephanie Miller, 17.

A maggot infestation is not usually a happy occurrence, but it turned around the fortunes of a local special needs school.

A new $8.6 million state-of-the-art special needs school was officially opened in Elsdon on July 7, but might not have been built at all if not for a nasty case of maggots at the school's former site on Kenepuru Dr.

Staff at the 40-year-old Kapi-Mana school had been asking for a new school for decades, their site being run down and far too small, principal Fay Stanton says.

"We lobbied the ministry and everyone we could think of," she says.

"I must have written a million letters."

However, it was not until an infestation of maggots in 2006 from dead rats in the roof and floor that funding was approved for a new school building.


The Education Review Office happened to be visiting the school when the maggot problem appeared - maggots covered the floor and walls of a classroom, and a student fell to his knees through a rotten hallway floor where even more maggot-ridden rats were found.

"The smell was incredible," Mrs Stanton says.

The review office, which had been recommending the school move site since 1999, increased its pressure on the Ministry of Education, and a new school was soon given the green light.

"If I planned that I couldn't have done it better," Mrs Stanton says.

However, it was another five years before the new school would be complete.

Time was wasted trying to obtain a site on Kenepuru Hospital grounds, which proved too expensive, so the school settled on a site on a Mana College sports field.

"Ideally, we should have been in this school by the end of 2007."

The new school, which houses 27 special needs students aged 14 to 21, is named Mahinawa after a stream that runs behind it - the name translates as "working by water".

Water proved a problem during the building project with major geotechnical works needed to provide drainage to the flood-prone site.

The completed school is a wonder of modern technology, eco-awareness and sensitivity to students' needs.

Its hallways are curved rather than straight, as Mrs Stanton found overseas research proving autistic students dislike long, straight lines.

Ninety per cent of Mahinawa's students are autistic, with the remaining 10 per cent having Down's syndrome, Noonan's syndrome or global developmental delay syndrome.

Pale, calming colours are also used throughout the school, and most classrooms are identical to avoid upsetting the autistic students, who don't like change.

"There's a massive difference in student behaviour. They're calm," Mrs Stanton says, although she also attributes the difference to students now having more space.

Double glazing, solar panels, fruit trees, sensor lights and gas heating have earned Mahinawa a five-star eco rating.

The impressive technology extends to the classrooms, which are equipped with iPads, ceiling hoists, therapy baths, and an educational kitchen, laundry and music room.

The Educational Review Office are due to review the school next year, and will find a transformed set of students and staff.

"The students love it here," Mrs Stanton says.

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