Nelson College boarding changes spark backlash

WORRIED:  Nelson College boarders Hayze Shuttleworth, 13, left, Josh Power, 17, and Fynn Jankiewicz-McClintock, 16, are concerned about proposed changes to the school’s boarding houses.
WORRIED: Nelson College boarders Hayze Shuttleworth, 13, left, Josh Power, 17, and Fynn Jankiewicz-McClintock, 16, are concerned about proposed changes to the school’s boarding houses.

Proposed changes to Nelson College's boarding houses has sparked a backlash from its current boarders after part of a review was leaked to them.

The college currently has three boarding houses - Fell, Barnicoat and Rutherford. Each homes year 9 through to year 13 students, who pay fees to board. There are 170 boarders currently, with capacity for 230.

But headmaster Gary O'Shea said the boarder numbers were likely to drop to 150 next year.

In March, the school's board of trustees started a review of boarding and its future. It hired an independent consultant who offered a variety of recommendations.

Students were shown part of the review over the weekend that recommended Barnicoat House would house year 9 and 10, Fell House years 11-13 and Rutherford House be redesigned to house the prep school classrooms and boarders.

Students responded with a Facebook page to voice their opposition, and an online petition. They had also scheduled a protest on Monday, but it was called off after O'Shea met them on Sunday.

He told the Nelson Mail he was disappointed the information was leaked to the students before he had a chance to speak to them, but understood the boarders' passion and concern over changes.

O'Shea said the dropping numbers of boarders reflected a "societal change". It could be because there were fewer people living rurally, or that families wanted to keep their boys at home and attend rural schools, he said.

Parents were sent an executive summary, but the information passed on to the boarders was from the full report, which was never released.

The review needed to address the "poor state" of the buildings and chattels, the poor financial performance of the houses, inconsistent policies and procedures, including procurement, staffing structure and culture.

The first and preferred option was to retain the three houses, with 190 beds. It was estimated to cost $4.9 million. Barnicoat would be assigned to year 9 and 10 and Fell assigned to year 11-13. Alternatively, both would house year 9-13 students, while Rutherford would be re-designed to house prep school classrooms and boarding.

The houses would be "extensively" refurbished over 2015-2019, which would mean progressive, lengthy closures as the work was carried out.

Other options included retaining the houses and keeping Rutherford as a weekday-only boarding hostel, or building a new boarding facility by selling Fell and Rutherford.

A fourth option was to sell Fell House, and the fifth was to keep with the status quo, which was seen as unviable.

At a reunion of Old Boys from the 1950s- 70s at the weekend, O'Shea explained planned changes.

"They are right behind us.

"There's a sadness but things have to change."

The school board of trustees was consulting with teachers, parents, Old Boys and students over the changes. Feedback was to end on August 14 with a decision soon after.

Boarders Fynn Jankiewicz-McClintock, 16, and Josh Power, 17, were both behind the Facebook page. They were concerned about proposed changes.

They said the boarding culture would change if Rutherford House boarders were merged into Fell and Barnicoat.

They did not want to see the houses segregated by age and said the mentoring culture would disappear.

"If the houses were segregated we would be concerned about inter-house competitions - there's always been strong rivalry between houses but it's been friendly. We think to merge Rutherford into Barnicoat and Fell, we would lose a lot of the tradition around the rivalry," said Josh.

Fynn said if students were segregated there would be a "sense of disconnection. The spirit wouldn't really be there".

However, they both agreed that there would have to be some changes made to keep it financially viable. They said they wanted to work with the school on its changes.

"We want a situation where we can hold our traditions and heritage and second homes in our memories, without boarding not existing in the near future," Josh added.

Fell House boarder Hayze Shuttleworth, 13, said being a boarder was like "always being on school camp".

He relied on seniors for advice and to keep an eye on younger students who might fight. He was concerned about being separated into different houses from seniors.

The Nelson Mail