Buildings rich in history

Crumbling school in desperate need of upgrade

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 10:31 23/07/2014
mbc
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ
HISTORY BOYS: Marlborough Boys’ principal Wayne Hegarty pictured in the hall of memorabilia where pictures of former students who died in WWI and WWII hang. Hegarty said the long history of the school would be maintained on a new school site.

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Earthquake damage, tired and tatty classrooms, leaking roofs. Marlborough Boys' College principal Wayne Hegarty tells reporter Heather Simpson a new school building has to be built.


An open drain floods a classroom floor every time there is heavy rain. Posters and pictures hang on walls to hide cracks caused by earthquakes. A toilet block condemned because it breached health and safety standards.

Some of Marlborough Boys' College classrooms are akin to something from the third world, its principal Wayne Hegarty told a public meeting on the future shape of secondary school education in Blenheim.

Three weeks on from the public meeting, Hegarty admits the statement may have been provocative but there was no doubt some of the classrooms were tired and tatty.

A beautiful stained glass window depicting Wairau River floods light onto stairwell. It also beautifully sheds light on a large earthquake crack down the wall.

The technology block hasn't been updated since World War II and floods during heavy rain. The art block is in disrepair and a former pungent urinal acts as a dark room for students.

There isn't enough gym space for the 950 students and priority Maori students are educated in a wharenui that lacks insulation and has electrical cables running across the floor.

In the multiple times Hegarty has taken Ministry of Education officials on a tour of the school, he asks: Would you want your child educated in these conditions?

Twelve months ago the college drew up plans to convert some classrooms into modern learning environments. Hegarty said the college had "blue sky thinking" to revamp the old art and technology blocks, put a mezzanine floor on the school hall and reconfigure some classrooms, corridors and stairwells.

The ministry had stumped up $125,000 for the plans to be done but they were called to a halt and a consultation on the two secondary colleges was launched.

Last year the school board said they wanted to be modernised but stay on their current site. Then, in a dramatic U-turn at last month's public meeting, Hegarty said the board concluded the ministry costings to modernise the college "didn't stack up" and they wanted a greenfield site on which separate girls' and boys' colleges would stand close-by with some co-educational classes.

The Ministry of Education have three options on the table out to public consultation: two colleges side-by-side on the one site, with the option of a tertiary addition, costing $51.5 million; retaining and maintaining existing colleges costing $10.8m; and a co-educational college costing $52.6m, excluding land costs.

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Hegarty said an offer of $10.8m split between the two colleges would be a fix-it job and wouldn't create the modern learning environments they desperately needed.

"In 10-15 years there might be a new technology and art block but the rest of the school will be 10-15 years sadder.

"The moment the penny dropped was when the costings were put before the board. We were hopeful we could stay here and the ministry would be prepared to do the school up, but the funds allocated meant that was never going to happen. Our heart says fight and stay where we are, our minds say don't turn down $51.5m that could provide for the future."

In a tour of the college, the degree of disrepair is surprising.

The technology block dates back to when the delta air force camp was in Blenheim during WWII.

The main workshop is old, with paint peeling off the roof to expose wooden chipboard. Its only redeeming feature is its large size, Hegarty said.

The school has had difficulties with contractors getting onto the roof because of health and safety standards.

In a neighbouring technology computer room there is a hole in the ground and a leaking roof pours water onto IT equipment during downpours. Three computers had been damaged in one heavy rainfall. Maintenance proved a pain with rooms having to be rewired every time there was a downpour.

It also has the auspicious title of being the only school Hegarty has heard of that has an open drain running next to a classroom.

"When it floods, the water flows into the woodwork room, it is just crazy."

The art block, which has produced a raft of art scholarship students, is in a similarly sad state. At the entrance to a classroom there is a wide gash in the linoleum floor with a makeshift cover stapled over the top.

The dark room isn't the hi-tech space becoming of a modern learning environment. It was a former toilet and the pungent urinal still stands against one wall. Students close the curtains to convert it into a dark room.

In the maths block the school has spent $40,000 recarpeting the corridors and installing fire doors.

"Before it was scungy. The frustration is some doors were replaced and not others. Staff tried to make the classroom more appealing by putting posters on the wall. It wouldn't pay you to look under the posters though."

The school board is adamant two separate colleges on a greenfield site is the only option to futureproof boys' education for the next 30 years. And with a peak in intake due in 2017, they desperately need the space.

The ministry pushed for more relevant courses for students whose aspirations is work rather than university, but the practical components of horticulture, construction and forestry were constrained by small spaces.

"I saw a science lesson last week and the forestry students had their chainsaws going outside just metres from the classroom. It is just ridiculous," Hegarty said.

In a corner of the schoolyard horticulture students have three lowly vege patches. Beside it construction students are building garden sheds in a small, easily vandalised area. "A builder wouldn't build in the front of his yard, but with our space constraints we have no option," Hegarty said.

A lack of gym space means the gymnasium isn't big enough to fit four classes at the same time.

"A bone of contention is the old boys squash club which the ministry considers a second gym."

Hegarty said the club may be on school grounds but it was not part of the school and he didn't have a master key for it.

"Who is to say what initiatives in the future might require more land. For example, at some time in the future boarding may again be considered by a board. This could be linked to courses or academies that utilise either facilities or talent in our region. Meetings I have been at in recent weeks have talked about the potential of offering horticulture with strong viticulture links, rowing and rugby academies."

Hegarty would like to see a cultural centre for Maori and Pasifika students and a tertiary provision.

The only hurdle some face is their sentimental attachment to the school building and the school's rich history.

A copper beech tree that marks the coronation of King George VI stands proud in the school courtyard adjacent to a number of protected trees in the school grounds.

The hall of memorabilia showcases pictures of former pupils who died in WWI and WWII.

Community contributions paid for the school pool and the Goulding Pavilion

"The historical and architectural significance of the college site is huge to so many people and while we know some of what we will gain, we might not truly appreciate what we could lose, much of which you cannot put a dollar figure on - culture."

Hegarty said Marlborough old boys had been philosophical about moving from the site but a new school site was the best option.

"We are not comparing apples with apples. We need to be pragmatic."

- Marlborough

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