Porirua College: New buildings, new attitude

CHANGED AMBIENCE: Year 13 students from left, Jayne Lafaele, Peter Briggs and Ponesa Muna inside one of the college’s award-winning classroom blocks. Left: the exterior view of one of the new blocks.
CHANGED AMBIENCE: Year 13 students from left, Jayne Lafaele, Peter Briggs and Ponesa Muna inside one of the college’s award-winning classroom blocks. Left: the exterior view of one of the new blocks.

Fighting, graffiti and vandalism at Porirua College disappeared when it said goodbye to dark corridors and concrete, cell-style buildings.

The school's 1968 design was replaced by four integrated "whanau-style" houses with state-of-the-art equipment and transparent, modern classrooms in an $18.5 million redevelopment that began in 2010.

Two years later, principal Susanne Jungerson has noticed behaviour has improved "quite dramatically" within the decile 1 school.

She used to have to charge the Education Ministry one of the country's highest vandalism cleanup bills of about $160,000 a year, reflecting the pupils' lack of respect for their learning environment.

"It didn't happen overnight, but once they realised, ‘Gosh, this is real, this is our flash new school,' they do want to look after it. It's just extraordinary."

Now there was no fighting in the school, and a change of attitude to one of a real pride in their new surroundings. "They are much more positive towards school, their teachers and towards each other now."

Morale had lifted, pride had increased, and pupils no longer felt "diffident" about the school, she said.

"I think it was the uplift in pride that you get from flash new buildings, good technology and the environment looking a lot nicer."

The rest of the school was being refurbished, but it was in the award-winning houses where the change happened.

Peter Briggs, 18, said the new layout meant pupils were no longer "stuck in a box" and, while they were mainly separated into four community houses, when they came together it was as one proud school.

"They're not tagging it, they're not treating it badly. They are treating it like their houses."

Jayne Lafaele, 17, said there were no more fights or aggressive attitudes, whereas there used to be "lots".

"We want to give our school a good name and I think we've achieved that since the buildings and everything. There is no-one tagging on the buildings because we want to keep it fresh."

It used to be "hard", because of the vibe within the buildings; pupils found isolated places to hang out "in their own buzz".

Head boy Ponesa Muna, 17, said he had noticed a big change in pupil attitudes since the "outdated" buildings were replaced.


The traditional "cells and bells" style of schools need to be replaced by modern learning spaces, Porirua College's architect says.

Opus International Consultants principal architect Bruce Curtain says a building's design can affect the behaviour of those within it, so it was important to get it right.

Porirua College in Cannons Creek is one of New Zealand's first to implement the modern learning building model and it gained a New Zealand Institute of Architects Wellington award last week.

Building on concepts by United States architects Fielding Nair International, Opus came up with an Education Ministry-approved design.

The old 1968-style school buildings - which Opus' predecessor company designed - are outdated and irrelevant to education today, Mr Curtain says.

It used to be "cells and bells" - concrete block buildings with tiny windows in the doors, with pupils ruled by the bell. Now it was opened right up, with glass doors and whanau-style houses each providing a "little community in itself".

Each had a common area where pupils could use computers, sit and eat lunch or work at desks, surrounded by four classrooms and an area for teachers.

Teachers can see everything happening around them, even through surrounding buildings to see pupils arriving late to school, he says.

The design of buildings has been known to affect behaviour, and this had been shown by the happiness of residents in the Opus-designed Sprott House dementia unit in Karori.

Senior graphics pupils helped design aspects of the college such as the Maori and Pacific Island-style pinboard and floor patterns.

"It really feels quite different, quite unique," Mr Curtain says.


Features of Porirua College's award-winning design:

Four whanau-style houses Maori and Pacific Island design, with kite and waka hull roof.

Open plan and transparent, with glass doors and walls "bringing the outside in".

Clustering teaching spaces around group learning area/common room.

Sustainable air conditioning, efficient heating and cooling.

Raised floor so IT wiring and cables can be changed over time.

Wireless internet throughout.

The Dominion Post