Students wait as schools plan action

KATARINA FILIPE, JO GILBERT AND IMOGEN NEALE
Last updated 05:00 05/03/2011

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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Seventy-six Christchurch schools are preparing to reopen, but thousands of pupils remain in limbo.

Education Minister Anne Tolley said yesterday that structural reports on the 121 state schools in Christchurch showed 76 were deemed to be safe and they were preparing to open.

Dates had not been finalised, but it is understood some will reopen from early next week.

Alternative plans have been made for more than 1700 pupils from Marian College and Avonside Girls' High School, which were severely damaged in last month's earthquake.

Avonside Girls' High will share the Burnside High School site, while Marian College will share space at St Bede's College.

"One set of students will attend in the morning, with the other school having classes in the afternoon. The exact details have still to be finalised, but this is a positive step forward," Tolley said.

Details for other badly affected schools would be announced soon.

"We want to get students back in school and provide certainty for families as soon as we possibly can," she said.

The Christ's College and St Margaret's College websites said the schools planned to reopen on March 21.

A notice on the Christchurch Boys' High School website said it was unlikely the school would reopen before Thursday.

Cashmere High School is expected to reopen in the week of March 14, while Riccarton High School's website said the school would be assessed on Monday.

Since the February 22 quake, more than 4800 pupils have fled the city and re-enrolled in other areas, with Timaru, Queenstown-Lakes and Auckland having the highest number of Christchurch pupils.

In Christchurch, Ferndale, Heaton Normal Intermediate, St Martins and Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti were all on the Education Ministry's register of badly damaged schools.

Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson said the school took a "pretty serious knock" and it would reopen when it was deemed to be safe.

"We're very, very keen to get started again. We want to see our children [and] support them in their learning."

Parents were coming into the school or using the school's website and answering machine to stay in touch, he said.

The school had been delighted with the number of volunteers who had offered to help.

"One volunteer came up from Naseby and worked solidly. He drove six hours with his truck and digger," Simpson said.

Heaton Normal Intermediate principal Andrea Knight said she hoped to get her 560 pupils back in class before the end of the month.

The school was badly damaged, but she believed it was fixable.

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City schools have been assigned ministry project teams to work on tailored recovery packages to return children to school.

Ferndale board chairwoman Jacki Morris said it was "unknown" whether the school would be able to return to its Merivale site.

Unlimited principal John Mather said he did not know how badly his school was damaged as it was within the city cordon, and it had not been checked.

"We're not expecting to have access to those buildings in the short term, but we don't exactly know how they are," he said.

The school occupies three buildings in the City Mall.

St Martins principal Rob Callaghan said he expected it would be "a matter of weeks" before the school's 500 pupils could return to a remediated site.

"We've been hit hard, but we are confident we will be able to get up and running on the one site," he said.

On Wednesday, the school reunited staff, pupils and parents for a barbecue on the school field, with help from the Mad Butcher and Nelson's Birchwood School.

"This barbecue is just sending a signal that we are still here and we are still thinking of them [the school community]," Callaghan said.

- The Press

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