Libraries become teaching spaces at overcrowded schools video

Students at Methven Primary School have had to bunker down in a non-insulated hall in sub-zero temperatures. From left, ...
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ

Students at Methven Primary School have had to bunker down in a non-insulated hall in sub-zero temperatures. From left, Hyacinth McMichael, Megan Barr, Ethan Riddle and Georgia Monk.

Explosive growth in classrooms is forcing schools to teach out of libraries and halls.

About 60 of the 550 state schools in central, south Auckland and north of the harbour bridge were near capacity.  

Some schools have converted their libraries or halls into teaching spaces to cope while they wait for relocatable and permanent classrooms to be built. 

In the South Island, some students were being taught in an asbestos-clad woodwork room and had to give up their library for extra classroom space.

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Methven Primary School near Ashburton had no choice but to relocate four classrooms to their library and a  derelict woodwork room that doubled as a hall.

The coldest morning they had this winter was -7C and students and teachers in the non-insulated hall bunkered down in ski-jackets.

A mobile library was arranged since two classrooms took over the space more than a year ago.

Principal Chris Murphy said their backs were up against the wall as pupil numbers increased after growth and development in the area.

The rural school was designed for 220 students but over the last four years has peaked at 320.

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"It's been trying times. The [Board of Trustees] had to be strategic about where to put students and where we had the spare space," he said. 

"It came down to that we don't have an alternative. Every nook and cranny was full."

But two weeks ago, they were able to move into a brand new classroom fitted with a heat pump and "all the bells and whistles".

Murphy said the Ministry of Education agreed to fund more than $1 million for a new building with three large "multipurpose teaching studios".

However, the library will still house two classrooms until the end of September, when two new teaching spaces will be provided.

Rowandale Primary School in south Auckland gave up their library five years ago to make for teaching space.

"We haven't had a proper library for so long that these kids don't know what a library is," said principal Karl Vasau.

They created a pop up library in a tiny room where only 10 students at one time can visit.

"We're using every part at the school as possible because of the overcrowding," he said.

They received six relocatable classrooms delivered by the Ministry last year. 

Two were brand new and another two were asbestos-clad taken from another school.

It's been a temporary fix, but they still don't have a library.

Lynda Stuart, principal representative of the New Zealand Education Institute said principals are doing the best they can with what they have.

She said schools working above capacity had no choice but to forfeit libraries and halls and that choice threw the whole school out of function.

"That means other children can't use it and it's not a school-wide facility any more. It's also the fact that the children are in a temporary place," she said.

"It's not their learning environment to specifically meet their needs."

Michael Maher, Auckland Primary Principals' Association representative said if a school is working to capacity it was highly likely neighbouring schools are as well.

He said migration and immigration were the main factors for significant roll growth in Auckland over the past few years and that overcrowded schools were an effect of the region's housing crisis.

But Rob Giller, acting head of education infrastructure for the Ministry of Education said they were looking ahead 30 years and working closely with local bodies.

"It is no secret that the population and therefore student numbers are growing not only in Auckland, but also in Hamilton, Tauranga, Central Otago and Queenstown," he said.

"The Ministry is forecasting the impact of this growth on the school network and working to ensure it will be accommodated."

In 2014, a growth package of $350 million over four years was announced for Auckland to get ahead of demand and ensure necessary school infrastructure was in place to meet population growth.

He said the Ministry's school property guide calculator makes different allowances for space depending on variables such as the years of the students, whether the school is operating in a Maori medium, and whether there are special needs students enrolled.

"School rolls are also prone to short-term fluctuations, so if a school is calculated as operating at capacity today, it doesn't imply that it will be tomorrow, or that it has an ongoing shortage of facilities," he said.

The Ministry of Education said a total of 239 new classrooms were on track to be delivered by early 2017.

The classrooms will be delivered to 50 schools across Auckland, and about 12 per cent of the city's schools have "active projects underway to address roll growth".

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 - Sunday Star Times

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