What was a paddock of zucchinis is now Tu Toa's new rugby field, an emerald green oasis in the middle of rural Aokautere.
Professionally set up with pop-up sprinklers, it is almost ready for home games for the school's three teams - and it will get better.
There will be two other playing fields on the former Horticultural Research Centre site, and a training field.
A top-quality sand-based field is being groomed and will be ready for next season.
Another large building will be converted to a gym facility while classrooms, dining and kitchen facilities are to be upgraded.
The Ministry of Education is pumping $2.3 million into building Tu Toa, mainly for Maori students.
The school opened on February 5 when teacher John Kendal left Palmerston North Boys' High to become the Tu Toa site leader and director of high performance sport.
"The facilities will be world class," he said.
Kendal (Te Arawa) is a former rugby referee from Bay of Plenty and a former referees' development officer. He has also coached the Manawatu women's NPC team.
Tu Toa is an affiliate of Tai Wananga at Hamilton, which is also setting up two similar schools in Rotorua and one in Hawke's Bay. Tu Toa previously occupied the site at Hokowhitu now occupied by Nathan Durie's Manukura.
His brother Ra was the driving force behind Tu Toa shifting to the Staces Rd site and he conducts science tutoring sessions four nights a week.
Kendal doesn't believe having two similar schools in Palmerston North makes much sense in the long term.
Tu Toa have eight staff and 57 students, including five girls, three of whom will play netball with Freyberg High School. About 45 are back from last year's Tu Toa crop.
Kendal said Tu Toa hadn't gone out to lure students from other schools. "There was a perception there was shoulder-tapping. We have only got two or three from each school."
Tu Toa will stick with 60 students this year, but plan to lift to 90 next year. "Parents vote with their feet," he said.
The fee per student is $2065 a year and that includes breakfasts and lunches. There is a private boarding facility for up to 20 students, run by parents.
Kendal, though, has turned some away.
"While the parents want them to be here, they don't necessarily want to be here.
"If we establish a work ethic here, they do flourish. A lot of the kids are natural athletes."
Kendal took 20 boys to the Manawatu secondary school athletics. Few had been before and five of them won medals. Flanker Israel Moke (Dannevirke) and fullback Trevahn Taufoau (Palmerston North) were named in the national under-15 sevens squad after the national tournament at Mt Maunganui.
There are two pakeha boys at Tu Toa.
"There is no expectation you have to be Maori, but there is an expectation you leave with some"[culture].
He said 95 per cent of the students want to be professional athletes, but because only 2 per cent make it, the big focus is on learning and career aspirations.
They do an hour's conditioning work from 7.30am and sports training from 3.30pm to 5pm. Rugby is the main sport at Tu Toa, but Kendal said they also have athletics, sevens, touch and the Maori ball game, kio rahi.
The first XV coaches will be former Te Kawau coach Bryan Matenga, Kendal and Whitiaua Black, while Ra Durie will take the second XV.
Tu Toa are committed to playing in the national boys' knockout which means they will again clash with the Boys' High first XV in the first round.
"If you want to be the best you have to play the best," Kendal said.
- Manawatu Standard
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